United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Kerry to Congress: Allow Time for Talks

            On November 14, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that passing new U.S. sanctions could encourage Iranian hardliners to undermine talks on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. They would “hold President [Hassan] Rouhani and Foreign Minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif accountable” for what Iranians would view as a “bad-faith step” by the United States, Kerry argued on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The Obama administration is now asking Congress to allow “time to be able to negotiate and present a good deal that will be able to protect Israel, protect our interests, protect the region, and guarantee… Iran will not be able to get a nuclear weapon,” said Kerry. The following is a transcript of the interview.

 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Let’s talk about the Iran nuclear talks. There were so many initial signs of hope, positive signs. What’s the status at this point?
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re still hopeful. I think what’s critical is to focus, first of all, on the President’s policy. The President’s policy is that under no circumstances will Iran get a nuclear weapon. That is a centerpiece of Obama foreign policy. He’s made that pledge any number of times, and that is the policy that we’re pursuing. But I was in the Senate. I was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at the time when we passed the sanctions bill, and I helped to pass it, believe in them, and the reason we passed the sanctions was to be able to negotiate. The sanctions are working. We’re now able to negotiate. What we’re really asking the Congress to do is give us the time to be able to negotiate and present a good deal that will be able to protect Israel, protect our interests, protect the region, and guarantee – I mean, guarantee, failsafe, that Iran will not be able to get a nuclear weapon. It’s a pretty simple proposition.
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: I understand that, that simple math you’re doing. Yesterday though, you told everyone – you told reporters – everybody – that they need to calm down about the prospect of postponing new sanctions on Iran. But I guess some might ask why we would even be considering easing sanctions.
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re – in fact, the core sanctions regime does not really get eased. Ninety-five percent or more of the current sanctions will remain in place. Iran was bringing in about 110 billion, maybe a 120 billion a year in income from its oil revenues and banking and so forth. That has been knocked down to about 40 to 45 billion now because of the sanctions, and that 45 billion is frozen in banks around the world. They can’t access it. All we’re talking about doing is a tiny portion of that would be released, because you have to do something in order to make it worthwhile for them to say, “Yes, we’re going to lock our program where it is in today, and actually roll it back.”
 
The President’s plan on Iran would actually expand the current breakout time. If we don’t negotiate and we don’t get this agreement, the exact opposite happens. The breakout time contracts, the world becomes more dangerous, and there is nothing to suggest that Iran is just going to up and say okay, we’re going to do this because you’ve increased your sanctions. In fact, increasing the sanctions would be viewed by Iran as a bad-faith step by the United States --
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Right.
 
SECRETARY KERRY: -- and it will encourage the hardliners in Iran to hold President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif accountable for dealing with us at all because we don’t operate in good faith. And then we’re locked into the next whatever number of years of a standoff. But a standoff in this circumstance which becomes far more dangerous for Israel – our ally and friend – far more dangerous for the region, may even push other countries to nuclearize, and could result in the requirement that we have to, rather than have a negotiated, peaceful resolution of this, take military action in order to secure our goals.
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Robert Gibbs.
 
MR. GIBBS: Mr. Secretary, you have a week before the next round of talks. You’ve had this back and forth between some saying the French decided this wasn’t a good deal --
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Right.
 
MR. GIBBS: -- the United States did, or even Iran may have walked away. I’m interested in how do you talk to and what do you say to Prime Minister Netanyahu between now and the beginning of those talks next week that the path that you’re pursuing is best for them and what do you say specifically around Iran’s continued enrichment abilities or continue to build a nuclear reactor for plutonium enrichment?
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re not going to let them do that, first of all. I mean, we’ve made it clear to our friends up on the Hill that each of those critical enrichment facilities are part of this agreement, and none of them will be able to progress further if we get this first step. That’s how we begin to roll back the program and hold it where it is. So that’s an essential component of this.
 
But I’ve had several conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week. In fact, literally just before coming here, I hung up the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And we’re having a very friendly and civil conversation about this. I respect completely his deep concerns as a Prime Minister of Israel should have about the existential nature of this threat to Israel. We understand that, which is why President Obama has made this firm commitment that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon.
 
Now what we agree on – what we disagree on is not the goal. We all agree on the goal; we disagree on a tactic. We believe that you need to take this first step and that you will not get Iran to simply surrender and believe you’re dealing in good faith if after two years of negotiating you don’t follow through on --
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Exactly.
 
SECRETARY KERRY: -- what’s on the table. But Bibi, the Prime Minister – Netanyahu believes that you can increase the sanctions, put the pressure on even further, and that somehow that’s going to force them to do what they haven’t been willing to do at any time previously. We just don’t agree with that as a – but I don’t want to go into the – I mean, what’s important here is we stand with Israel firmly – 100 percent. There’s no distance between us about the danger of this program, and the end game for us is exactly the same. Iran cannot have a peaceful nuclear program that is, in fact, a deceptive program or a program geared to allow them breakout. There’ll have to be failsafe mechanisms, absolute clarity about the processes which will guarantee it is peaceful program. That’s our mutual goal.
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Mr. Secretary, Steve Ratner has a question for you.
 
MR. RATNER: Quick last question, I think, Mr. Secretary. Sir, you laid out your case very unemotionally, very clearly, very logically. Why are you having so much trouble with so many of your former colleagues, including Senator Corker, the ranking minority, Senator Schumer --
 
MS. BRZEZINSKI: Yes, there is that.
 
MR. RATTNER: -- the number three Democrat, and so forth.
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there are a lot of reasons for that, Steve. I’m not going to enumerate all of them now except to say that every senator is entitled to be skeptical, entitled to ask tough questions. They did yesterday and they will – and we’ll answer them. And we’ll answer their questions. I’m going to continue to talk to senators in the next days. I believe that what we are doing is – and the President believes this very deeply – is the best first step that will actually make Israel safer. It will extend the breakout time. If we don’t get this first step, not only will that breakout time shrink, but Iran may interpret the congressional reaction of wanting to increase sanctions as bad faith on our part, an unwillingness to, in fact, negotiate, and it may drive the hardliners even more into a commitment that they have to have the weapon.
 
These are difficult judgments. We each come to the table with our input and our information. I respect their positions, but we respectfully believe that the Executive Branch of government under the Constitution deserves the right to negotiate and present them with something and that this is not the moment to second guess that process when two years have gone in to creating the trust and common understanding that has been building to bring us to this moment. We believe we ought to be able to get the first step, and again I reiterate, our goal is the same: no nuclear weapon capacity; they must adhere to the strictest standards.

 

UN Report: Iran Has Slowed Nuclear Program

            Iran has virtually halted upgrading its uranium enrichment capacity, according to the latest quarterly report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since August, around the time President Hassan Rouhani took office, Tehran also has not added any major components to the heavy-water reactor at Arak. The following are excerpts from the Arms Control Association’s analysis on the report’s key findings.  

 
The November IAEA Report on Iran’s Nuclear Program:
No Significant Advances
Kelsey Davenport, Daryl G. Kimball, and Greg Thielmann
 
            According to the November 14, 2013 report, Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched material only increased slightly to 196 kilograms. This keeps Iran well below the required amount which, when further enriched is enough for one nuclear weapon.
 
Key Highlights from the Report:
  • Iran and the IAEA made progress on a framework agreement to address the agency’s outstanding concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. On November 11, the two sides signed a framework for cooperation, which includes six initial actions to be taken by Iran within the first three months.
  • Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium is at 196 kilograms, an increase of only about 10 kilograms since August 2013, because Iran is continuing to convert 20 percent uranium hexafluoride gas into powder. The stockpile remains below the estimated 240-250 kilograms which, when further enriched to weapons grade, would be enough for one nuclear weapon.
  • The IAEA reports no additional major components of the Arak heavy water reactor were installed since August, although Iran continues to make progress on construction. However, Iran has still not provided the IAEA with updated design information on the reactor. Iran anticipates a start date of mid-2014. However, with the Nov. 11 agreement, the IAEA now will be able to access the Heavy Water Production Plant at the Arak site, which would supply the reactor.
  • Since the August report, Iran has only installed 4 additional IR-1 centrifuges. In total, Iran has about 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges operating at Natanz and Fordow.
  • Iran installed no new IR-2M centrifuges, leaving the total at 1,008 advanced (IR-2M) centrifuges at Natanz. These centrifuges are not yet producing enriched uranium.
  • The number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 20 percent at Fordow remains constant at 696.
 
Less than a Bomb’s Worth of 20 Percent Enriched Uranium
            Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium is one of the most urgent proliferation concerns and is one that would be addressed the potential “first phase” agreement. Iran produces uranium enriched to 3.5 percent (reactor grade) and 20 percent (for research reactors.) About 90 percent of the work to enrich to weapons grade (over 90 percent enriched U-235) has occurred by the time enrichment reaches 20 percent.
            According to the November 2013 IAEA report, Iran currently has a stockpile of 196 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 20 percent, only a slight increase since the IAEA’s August 2013 report, when Iran had 185 kilograms available. Approximately 240-250 kilograms which, when further enriched to weapons grade, is enough for one bomb.
            Iran is continuing to produce uranium enriched to the 20 percent level at a relatively constant rate of 15 kilograms a month. In total, Iran has produced 410 kilograms of 20 percent enriched material, an increase of about 38 kilograms from the 372 kilograms reported by the IAEA in August 2013…
 
No New Advanced Centrifuges
            Iran’s deployment of advanced centrifuges in its commercial scale uranium enrichment plant at the Natanz facility poses a significant proliferation concern because these advanced centrifuges, the IR-2Ms, would likely enrich uranium 3-4 times more efficiently than the model that Iran is currently using (the IR-1) for all its enrichment activities.
            Iran has currently installed 1,008 IR-2M centrifuges in one unit at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, the same number reported by the agency as of August 2013. Preparatory installation work is underway on a further 12 cascades, according to the agency’s November report.
            None of the IR-2Ms are enriching uranium at this point, although they have been vacuum tested. Iran has said that when running, the IR-2Ms will produce reactor grade uranium, which is enriched to 3.5 percent…
 
Only Four New IR-1s at Natanz
            In the remaining units at Natanz, Iran has installed 15,420 IR-1 centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to 3.5 percent, of which approximately 8,700 are operational in 52 cascades. Iran only installed four IR-1 centrifuges since the August report, a dramatic decrease from the over 1,800 it installed between May and August 2013…
 
No Major Developments at Arak
            The Arak heavy water reactor is a long-term proliferation concern because it is relatively well-suited to produce plutonium. UN Security Council resolutions have called on Iran to halt construction on the reactor completely.
            According to the November 2013 IAEA report, Iran continues to move make progress on the construction of the Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor. The IAEA reported that Iran completed connecting the reactor vessel to the cooling and moderator piping, but did not complete the installation of any “major components,” since the previous report in August. Arak is not scheduled to become operational until mid-2014, according to an August 25 letter from Iran to the agency, a delay from the IAEA’s May 2013 report, when Iran estimated early 2014 as the probably start date…
 
Click here for the Arms Control Association blog.
 
Click here for the IAEA report.
 

Part I: Opposition to a Deal - The Gulf

Robin Wright and Garrett Nada

            The new diplomacy between Iran and the world’s six major powers faces growing opposition from key players in the Middle East, including the oil-rich and influential Gulf states. The Sunni sheikhdoms are nervous the Shiite theocracy will do a deal on its nuclear program that leaves Tehran with a residual capability to eventually build a bomb, either by retaining basic knowledge of a weapons program or controlling the pivotal fuel production for a weapon.
            More broadly, however, Saudi Arabia and the smaller monarchies fear that a diplomatic deal will allow rival Iran to shed its pariah status and reemerge as the Gulf powerhouse—to their disadvantage. Iran’s split with the West after the 1979 revolution had increased the influence of Saudi Arabia particularly as an alternative pillar of U.S. policy. A deal on Iran’s nuclear program could in turn lead to rapprochement with Washington that would diminish Gulf leverage.
            Tensions between Iran and its Gulf neighbors have not eased despite new President Hassan Rouhani’s call for improving relations between Tehran and Riyadh. “We are not only neighbors, we are brothers,” he said shortly after his election in June. “We have had very close relations, culturally, historically and regionally.” He emphasized this point in a tweet following his October 15 call with Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.
            But suspicions remain deep. After the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers met this fall, Prince Saud al Faisal was openly skeptical. “What we want now is to see that desire materialize on the ground,” he said. “They preach what they do not practice, and practice what they do not say.”
            Opposition to a deal plays out on four levels:
            • Iran’s military capabilities.
            • The sectarian balance of power between Shiite Iran and the Sunni sheikhdoms.
            • The ethnic balance between Persians and Arabs.
            • Ties with the United States.
 
The Military Balance
            The Gulf sheikhdoms are concerned that even a nuclear capability – no bomb, but the ability to assemble a weapon in a short time – would change the strategic balance of power in Iran’s favor. 
 
      Iran currently has more conventional and unconventional troops than the six sheikhdoms in the Gulf Cooperation Council combined. Tehran has more than twice as many ground, air and naval forces as Saudi Arabia, its main rival and the largest of the GCC countries. But the GCC has a potential advantage in quality of armor, artillery and mobility. The six sheikhdoms collectively have more combat planes--666 fixed wing combat aircraft that are also more advanced than Iran’s 334 largely outdated planes. The Gulf navies collectively have some 598 crafts, while Iran has about 280. Iran’s forces would probably not be able to sustain a long campaign against GCC forces, especially if they were backed by the United States.*
 
            A nuclear capability would be a game-changer, however. The sheikhdoms are particularly concerned that Iran might use the mere knowledge of how to produce the world’s deadliest weapon to increase its regional leverage, intimidate rivals, promote its revolutionary ideology, and control the Gulf waters through which some 40 percent of the world’s oil flows.
As a result, Saudi Arabia and its neighboring sheikhdoms Gulf would prefer virtually the same limits on Iran’s program demanded by Israel, including closure of key facilities and an end to enrichment of uranium.
The Sectarian Balance
            The rivalry between the Gulf and Iran actually predates the 1979 revolution. It reflects the deepest schism within the Islamic world dating back to the seventh-century split between Sunnis and Shiites.
            Iran has the world’s largest Shiite population; it is the only country led by Shiite clergy. Both factors made it the de facto leader of the Shiite world politically, even though the key center of Shiite scholarship is in Iraq.
            Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and the guardian of its two holiest sites. The Gulf sheikhdoms are all ruled by Sunni monarchies, but all have Shiite populations. Shiites are the majority in Bahrain, where many have been involved in protests against the government since 2011. Saudi Arabia has more than 2 million Shiites, many of whom live and work in the oil-fields of the restive Eastern Province.
             Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have long claimed that Iran was trying to foment unrest among their Shiite minorities. “Clerical authorities in Iran still tend to act as if they lead the Islamic World--issuing ultimatums, intimidating their neighbors, and inciting dissidence and revolution,” Prince Turki al Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief, said in October.
            Numerically, Iran’s 79 million population is almost twice as large as the 45 million people who populate the six Gulf sheikhdoms, especially since the Gulf numbers include foreign residents. The Sunni monarchies are concerned that Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability might lead the Shiite theocracy to more actively support their brethren inside the Gulf sheikhdoms.

 
The Ethnic Balance
            Gulf fears about Iran also have roots in centuries-old competition between Arabs and Persians for regional dominance. Tensions played out most recently during the eight-year war between the Arab regime in Iraq and the Persians of Iran in the 1980s. It was sparked by rival claims on the strategic Shatt-al Arab waterway along their border, but it was more broadly about regional influence. The Iran-Iraq war still ranks as the bloodiest conflict in the modern Middle East, producing more than 1 million casualties.
            Again numerically, Iran’s Persians significantly outnumber the Gulf Arabs. Half of the sheikhdoms also have Persian minorities. The Gulf sheikhdoms fear that an Iran with even a nuclear capability would give the Persians greater leverage over key regional issues, from oil prices to control of transportation routes. Gulf Arabs even oppose calling the strategic waterway that divides Iran and the sheikhdoms the “Persian” Gulf because it implies Iranian control or influence.
            “The Iranian leadership’s meddling in Arab countries is backfiring,” Prince Turki said. “Arabs will not be forced to wear a political suit tailored in Washington, London, or Paris. They also reject even the fanciest garb cut by the most skillful tailor in Tehran.”
 
U.S. Ties
            Saudi Arabia has been one of two pillars of U.S. policy in the Arab world —along with Egypt—since the late 1970s. After Iran’s 1979 revolution, the United States had both strategic and economic interests in giving GCC forces a qualitative edge over Iran. It invested heavily in the modernization of Gulf militaries through arms transfers worth tens of billions of dollars. In turn, the Gulf’s defense strategy against revolutionary Iran has been based on close security ties with the United States.
            Iran’s new diplomacy—including the first meeting between the Iranian and American foreign ministers in September—has left the Gulf states feeling more vulnerable. The unprecedented phone call between President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani was especially unnerving for the ruling sheikhs, who view a potential U.S.-Iran rapprochement as harmful to both their relations with Washington and their own long-term interests. Abdullah al Askar, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Saudi Arabia's Shoura Council, reflected local sentiment. “If America and Iran reach an understanding,” he told Reuters, “it may be at the cost of the Arab world and the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia."
 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
 
Garrett Nada is a senior program assistant at USIP.
* Based on “The Gulf Military Balance” report by Anthony Cordesman and Bryan Gold. Click here for Cordesman’s chapter on Iran’s conventional military.
* *Based on estimates derived from the U.S. State Department and CIA World Factbook figures
 
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Part II: Opposition to a Deal - Israel

Garrett Nada

            Israel is the most skeptical country about diplomacy to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has generally dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures to the outside world as a deceptive “charm offensive.” In his U.N. address, Netanyahu called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and then went on a media blitz to warn world leaders against trusting the new president’s more conciliatory tone.

      Israel and Iran differ on a key issue: Iran insists that it retain the right to enrich uranium, a process for its peaceful nuclear energy program. But Israel insists that it end all enrichment because the fuel cycle could also be used to eventually develop a nuclear bomb.
      On November 8, Netanyahu warned against an interim agreement being discussed by world’s six major powers and Iran in Geneva. The agreement reportedly would relax some financial sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear program. “Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge,” Netanyahu said. “It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community."
           After the Geneva talks ended, Israel stepped up its campaign against what it considered premature sanctions relief for Iran. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that he would use a previously scheduled visit to Washington to warn Congress about the dangers of an interim deal. “Before the talks resume [on November 20], we will lobby dozens of members of the U.S. Congress to whom I will personally explain during a visit beginning on Tuesday that Israel's security is in jeopardy,” he said on November 10.
      In an English-language press conference, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz claimed that the United States, China, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia were considering “significant relief for the Iranians.” He estimated that U.S. and E.U. sanctions had cost Iran some $100 billion annually and that the proposed sanctions relief package could be worth up to $40 billion— or 40 percent of the overall impact. But State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki dismissed the estimate as “inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based on reality” in a briefing on November 13.Two days later, Netanyahu's office released the above graphic warning against an interim deal ahead of the third round of talks since Rouhani took office.
            Israel is also concerned that a diplomatic deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers—the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—would allow Iran to reemerge as a regional powerhouse.
            Israel’s opposition to a deal are based on Iran’s potential to:
            • Improve its military capabilities
            • Ramp up support for extremist groups
            • Improve ties with the United States
            • Gain international legitimacy
 
The Military Balance
            Israel is concerned that Iran might use the knowledge and technology used for building a nuclear weapon as leverage to expand its sphere of influence. As an undeclared nuclear power, Israel would still have the military edge. It is widely reported to have at least 80 nuclear warheads, with materiel to make up between 155 to 190 more. And unlike the Gulf sheikhdoms, Israel is hundreds of miles from Iran. So it is not primarily worried about potential land or sea battles in the conventional sense. Jerusalem is mainly focused on how Iran could threaten it from a distance, particularly via long-range missiles, or by increasing its influence with Israel’s neighbors.
            Iran “continues to develop missiles of various ranges, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. These missiles pose a threat to the Middle East, Europe, the United States and other countries,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in his U.N. address on Oct. 1, 2013.
 
      The Islamic Republic has the largest and most diverse arsenal of long-range rockets and ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran already possesses missiles, such as the Shahab-3 and Ghadr-1, that are theoretically capable of hitting Israel. They are, however, also highly inaccurate. Israel is concerned that Tehran is capable of producing longer range missiles. In an unprecedented display in September, Tehran paraded 30 missiles with a range of 1,200 miles to mark the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion.
      For now, Israel’s missiles are much more advanced and accurate. The Jericho II, with its estimated 900-mile range, could hit Tehran. In July 2013, Israel reportedly tested a new generation missile that could be the Jericho III. It has a range of between 3,100 miles and 6,800 miles, capable of hitting all corners of Iran. Israel may still worry that an emboldened Iran could deliver missiles to proxies closer to Israel’s borders, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
 
Side Effects of a Deal
            Israel and Iran were the two main pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East until the 1979 revolution. Since then, Israel and the United States have had a shared interest in containing Iran. They reportedly worked together on cyber warfare to slow or disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The Stuxnet worm reportedly attacked Iran’s centrifuges in late 2009 or early 2010, while the Flame virus collected information on Iranian officials in 2012.
            But Tehran’s new diplomatic initiative — including the first meeting between Iranian and American foreign ministers and a telephone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani in September —unnerved Israeli leaders. They are concerned about the side-effects of any deal, including lifting sanctions and potential rapprochement with the United States.
            A deal that lifts the world’s toughest sanctions could in turn improve Iran’s economic health and generating new income to support extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. By October 2013, sanctions had cost Iran at least $100 billion just over the previous 18 months, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Foreign Policy magazine. In 2006, Israel fought its longest war with Hezbollah; it ended without a clear victory for either side. Israel has a strategic interest in making sure Tehran does not replenish Hezbollah’s stock of weapons.
 
International Legitimacy
     Israel is also concerned that a nuclear deal could lead to Iran’s acceptance by a wider international community. Tehran has had pariah status, particularly under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even Iran’s powerful allies Russia and China backed punitive U.N. sanctions when Tehran refused to comply with international resolutions. But a deal on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program could be a game changer—and even draw unwanted attention on Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons.
      President Rouhani has already called for Israeli transparency on its program. “Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed,” Rouhani said in his speech to a U.N. disarmament conference. “Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay.”
 
Iran's Take on Israel's Reaction
            Tehran is aware of Israel’s growing anxiety over nuclear negotiations and new U.S.-Iran interaction. In an October 3 tweet, President Rouhani’s office suggested that Israel was jealous of the attention Iran’s diplomatic overtures have received.
            Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif interpreted Israel’s media blitz as a “sign of the frustration of warmongers.” He also implied that Jerusalem’s position would be diminished by a nuclear agreement. On October 18, he wrote on his Facebook page, “Zionists have the most fear about the success of the talks.”
 
Garrett Nada is a senior program assistant at USIP.

 
 
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org
 
 

Part III: Opposition to a Deal - Congress

            Any deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program may need Congressional approval. But the Obama administration could  face a tough sell for any deal on the Hill from both Republicans and Democrats. Nearly 60 percent of sanctions imposed on Tehran have been written into law since the 1980s.
            At least a dozen members from both the Senate and House reportedly spoke with new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif during the U.N. opening in New York. Some in Congress have been outspoken in support of a deal. Zarif "doesn't play games," said Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who met him in 2006 and was among a number of members of Congress who talked to him at the United Nations in September. "I think a deal is doable."
            Other members, however, have called for new sanctions and have indicated strong skepticism about new talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
            More than a dozen members warned against an interim agreement reportedly discussed by world’s six major powers and Iran in Geneva between November 7 and 10. "No one who is serious about preventing a nuclear-armed Iran should be comforted by what transpired this weekend in Geneva. After ten years of talks that have been multilateral, bilateral, secret and open, we should expect more than just inconsequential interim measures from Iran," Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said on November 10. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told CNN he was astounded that "the White House would say that a deal that would allow enrichment of uranium and building a plutonium reactor is not a march to war."
            Several members were concerned that an interim deal could harm Israel's interests. "President Obama should not abandon our friend and ally Israel, and he should notcut a deal that endangers the national security of the United States," Senator Ted Cruz said on November 8. 
            Secretary of State John Kerry briefed the Senate Committee in a closed session on November 13.  "What we’re really asking the Congress to do is give us the time to be able to negotiate and present a good deal that will be able to protect Israel, protect our interests, protect the region, and guarantee... Iran will not be able to get a nuclear weapon," Kerry told MSNBC a day later. 
           The following are excerpted remarks by members of Congress on Iran’s new diplomacy and the nuclear talks held in Geneva in October and November.

 

Republicans
 
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA)
            “I find it astounding that the White House would say that a deal that would allow enrichment of uranium and building a plutonium reactor is not a march to war. That’s the march to war. The deal that was in the works would frankly allow Iran to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. What we’re trying to do in the Congress, which we’ve already done in the House, is to pass additional sanctions. It’s up to the Senate now because the House has passed the sanctions. What’s very odd right now in the Middle East is you have the Arabs and the Israelis join together in their sense that American foreign policy as is played out in that potential interim agreement is something that is not helpful to the stability of the region, and in fact those allies of ours are telling us that to allow Iran the ability to continue to enrich or to build a plutonium factory is a sure way to spawn nuclear proliferation – and God forbid, face a nuclear Iran.”
            Nov. 13, 2013 in an interview with CNN
 
Senator Marco Rubio (FL)
            “No one who is serious about preventing a nuclear-armed Iran should be comforted by what transpired this weekend in Geneva. After ten years of talks that have been multilateral, bilateral, secret and open, we should expect more than just inconsequential interim measures from Iran. 
            “The urgency of the situation and the significant progress Iran has made in its nuclear efforts over the last decade demand much more than what the Obama administration appears willing to accept. Iran continues to refuse to meet the requirements of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and abandon its nuclear weapons program. None of the steps Iran reportedly has proposed will do much to significantly postpone the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran even as the U.S. and our partners would give up key economic leverage with Tehran. 
            “I am also concerned that in our haste to endorse a flawed arrangement with Iran, this administration appears willing to ignore the concerns of some of our closest allies.  We should be learning from our experiences with other nuclear rogues, such as North Korea, and not repeat the same mistakes, which I fear is the case here.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 in a statement 
 
Senator Bob Corker (TN)
            “The [U.N.] security council resolutions call for a complete stoppage [of Iran’s enrichment activities]…so you can imagine that Congress -- that put these sanctions in place with the administration kicking and screaming all the way, pushing back against these sanctions -- [is] very concerned that we’re going to deal away the leverage that we have where we finally have Iran willing to sit down and talk about these issues.
            “A partial agreement leads us down the same path we went down with North Korea, where just to get people to act right…you continue to reduce sanctions. So, again, a lot of concerns about the approach. A lot of us want to see it resolved diplomatically. We know the sanctions got us here, and we’re worried we’re dealing away our leverage.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 on NBC’s “Meet the Press”
 
Senator Mark Kirk (IL)
            “Today is the day in which I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East. This administration, like Neville Chamberlain, is yielding large and bloody conflict in the Middle East involving Iranian nuclear weapons. How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.”
            Nov. 13, 2013 to reporters after Secretary of State John Kerry’s briefing
 
            “A deal that undermines sanctions and doesn't stop a future with Iranian nuclear weapons is the deal of the century for Iran.
           “According to multiple news reports, the P5+1 offered the following sanctions relief to Iran during the latest round of negotiations: repatriation of $3 billion in Iranian assets trapped in accounts overseas, in addition to the suspension of current sanctions with respect to precious metals (like gold), Iran’s petrochemical and car industries, and aviation parts.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 blog entry
 
Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (CA). Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
            “In true ‘lead from behind’ fashion, the Obama Administration appears to be entertaining a deal that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory – not unlike the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq or the contemplated ‘zero option’ in Afghanistan. Relieving sanctions without a guarantee that Iran will end its nuclear program is foolish. For some reason, this Administration has yet to meet a red line it won’t brush aside to accommodate our enemies. They must stop chasing the thrill of a deal at the expense of U.S. national security, and the security of our allies.”
            Nov. 9, 2013 in a press release
 
Senator John McCain (AZ)
            Secretary Kerry is "a good friend of mine". But “this guy has been a human wrecking ball" on Iran. "Why should Iran have the right to enrich [uranium] when they have a clear record of seeking to and taking action to acquire nuclear weapons? Canada doesn't exercise a right to enrich uranium. Mexico doesn't."
            Nov. 14, 2013 in remarks at the Washington Ideas Forum
 
Representative Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
             “If true that the Administration is actually proposing sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a six-month halt in its nuclear program, it would be a significant error in judgment that very likely could have the opposite intended outcome. Iran has shown time and time again that it will use whatever means necessary at its disposal to buy time to complete its nuclear program. There can be no concessions whatsoever – no easing of sanctions, no deals – until Iran takes the first verifiable and concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear program.”
            Nov. 7, 2013 in a press release
 
Senator Ted Cruz (TX)
            “If the reports are correct, this is a terrible deal, and it is dangerous for America. The prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapon capacity is the gravest national security threat we face, yet it appears that this 'deal' does not require Iran to dismantle even a single centrifuge or turn over even a single pound of enriched uranium. To lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for an amorphous promise to pause their immediate efforts to acquire nuclear weapons makes no sense whatsoever. It is almost surely unverifiable, and lifting the sanctions will only encourage Iran to surreptitiously continue to develop nuclear weapons--weapons that, if acquired, pose an existential threat to America and our allies.
            "The United States should negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness. We should have insisted on good-faith measures before meeting with the Iranians directly, such as the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini and the acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
            "Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken the extraordinary step of condemning what is happening in Geneva as a 'very, very bad deal.' President Obama should not abandon our friend and ally Israel, and he should notcut a deal that endangers the national security of the United States."
            Nov. 8, 2013 in a statement
       
Representative Ed Royce (CA)
            “International sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table; we should build upon this success with additional measures to compel Iran to make meaningful and lasting concessions.”
            Oct. 14, 2013 in a letter to President Obama
 
Representative Trent Franks (AZ)
            “As the Obama Administration now engages in negotiations with Iran, there is a legitimate risk that this Administration, in its imprudent eagerness to adopt the narrative of a more peaceful and 'moderate' Iranian regime, could strike an agreement with Iran that does not actually prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability.”
            Oct. 15, 2013 in a press release
 
Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Mark Kirk (IL)
            “Now is a time to strengthen--not weaken--U.S. and international sanctions. The U.S. should not suspend new sanctions, nor consider releasing limited frozen assets, before Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities.”
            Oct. 18, 2013 in a joint statement
 
Democrats
 
Senator Chris Murphy (CT)
            “Now, the United States and the P5+1 are close to obtaining a verifiable commitment from Iran to halt activities that could eventually lead to the development of a nuclear weapon. This agreement, should it be finalized, will send a powerful message about the world community's commitment to nonproliferation and substantially advance the security of Israel and other nations in the region. At this critical juncture in these negotiations when Iran may be on the verge of making serious concessions regarding its nuclear program, I worry it would be counterproductive for Congress to authorize a new round of sanctions, diminishing American leverage and weakening the hands of Secretary Kerry and his counterparts in the P5+1. 
            “The P5+1 and Iran return to the negotiating table on November 20th, with a deal for a framework agreement reportedly very close. Congress should be clear that a failure of Iran to come to an agreement with the P5+1 will prompt the imposition of another round of sanctions; but for the time being, Congress should let our negotiators do their job.”
            Nov. 13, 2013 in a statement
 
Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee
            Iran is on the ropes because of its intransigent policies and our collective will, and it would be imprudent to want an agreement more than the Iranians do.
            Tougher sanctions will serve as an incentive for Iran to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program. When Iran complies, sanctions can be unwound and economic relief will follow.
            This approach is in concert with our diplomatic efforts and consistent with previous actions taken by the international community. It's a necessary insurance policy, too. Should Iran fail to negotiate in good faith or abide by any agreement, the penalties will be severe.
            Nov. 13, 2013 in an op-ed for USA Today
 
Representative Eliot Engel (NY), senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
            “I am closely following reports from Geneva that negotiators may soon finalize the parameters of an interim agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  While I support the President’s efforts to engage with Iran, I am deeply troubled by reports that such an agreement may not require Tehran to halt its enrichment efforts.  If Iran intends to show good faith during these talks, it must at a minimum abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a halt to enrichment-- and it is my hope that we achieve much more.  In addition, I forcefully reject any notion that Iran has a ‘right’to enrichment, a view which the Administration has publicly articulated on numerous occasions.”
            Nov. 8, 2013 in a statement
 
Senator Bob Casey (PA)
            “I'd say no [if Obama asked to lift sanctions]. They've got a long way to go to demonstrate the kind of credibility that would lead us to believe we can move in a conciliatory direction. And sanctions are what has strengthened the administration's hand."
            Mid-October 2013 in comments to Foreign Policy
 
Representative Yvette Clarke (NY)
            “The removal of sanctions before Iran has demonstrated its good faith would undermine the security of the United States and its allies, such as Israel. We must maintain a policy of caution. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I will continue to work with President Obama and my colleagues in the House of Representatives to eliminate any potential threats to our security.”
            Sept. 26, 2013 in a statement
 
            But some Democrats expressed support for encouraging a diplomatic outcome.
 
Representative David Price (NC)
            “Certainly there are some senators pushing for a new set of sanctions to be enacted. My own judgment is that the timing on that is very poor -- that it would be much preferable to hold that legislation in abeyance… The time may come when a new round of sanctions needs to be enacted, but my own judgment is that it would be better not to do that now, to give the diplomacy a freer reign.”
            Oct. 18, 2013 in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Bipartisan Letters
            Senators Charles E. Schumer, Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez, John McCain, Bob Casey and Susan Collins wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing their support for negotiations but cautioning the Administration against accepting a deal with Iran that would roll back economic sanctions without also rolling back progress towards nuclear weapons capability.
 
Dear Secretary Kerry:
 
We appreciate your continued efforts, in concert with our friends and allies, to negotiate with the Iranian regime. We also commend the efforts of your negotiating team to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  Our negotiators have benefited from the effects of tough economic sanctions in bringing Iran to the table.  Without the Administration, Congress, and our allies working together, we would not have arrived at this crucial point.
 
Indeed, we support the concept of an interim agreement with Iran that would roll back its nuclear program as a first step to seeking a final settlement that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. At the same time, we are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
 
It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities. For example, we understand that the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5 percent albeit for civilian use, to cap but not reduce its number of centrifuges, and to continue work around or near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be willing temporarily to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the cover of negotiations. This does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.
 
Furthermore, it is our understanding that in return for certain Iranian actions, the P5+1 would allow Iran to gain access to considerable amounts of capital that have been frozen by our international sanctions. Some have estimated the value of this capital for Iran as much as $10 billion. We regard this as a major concession on our part that would not be justified by the concessions the Iranian regime would be required to make in return. If we are reducing sanctions, Iran should be reducing its nuclear capabilities.
 
As you know, it is not just the sanctions themselves but the threat that they would continue to tighten that has brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. Easing sanctions now without real, tangible actions by Iran to roll back its nuclear program would not only diminish this threat of future pressure, it could make it more difficult to maintain the current sanctions regime at a time when many international actors are already eager to lessen their implementation of sanctions. We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.  
 
It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.
 
The upcoming round of negotiations could hardly be more important and we must be ever mindful of with whom we are negotiating. Iran has been the largest state sponsor of terrorism for over thirty years; its leaders routinely call for the destruction of Israel; and it arms and finances terrorist groups around the globe. We urge you and your negotiating team to fight for an interim agreement that demands as much or more of Iran as it does of the United States and our allies. We hope in the next few weeks we and our partners will redouble our efforts to gain greater proportionality and to finalize an agreement that demonstrates that Iran is moving away from the nuclear weapons path.
 
            A bipartisan group of 10 senators and another group of 78 freshman representatives expressed their concern about Iran negotiations in letters to President Obama. Both urged the administration to increase pressure on Tehran.
 
October 11, 2013
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
As representatives of the P5+1 and the Iranian government prepare to enter another round of negotiations to verifiably end Iran’s nuclear weapon program, we reiterate the four strategic elements articulated by 76 Senators to you on August 2, 2013  necessary to achieve resolution of the nuclear issue: (1) an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, (2) a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, (3) the maintenance and toughening of sanctions, and (4) a convincing threat of the use of force.
 
We support your efforts to explore a diplomatic opening, but we believe that the true test of Iranian sincerity is a willingness to match rhetoric with actions.  The critical test will be Iran’s proposal to the P5+1 this week in Geneva.  Iran’s first confidence-building action should be full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and implementation of all Resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to include immediate suspension of all enrichment activity.  If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by the Congress.  In short, the U.S. should consider, with the other members of the P5+1, a “suspension for suspension” initial agreement - in which Iran suspends enrichment and the U.S. suspends the implementation of new sanctions.
 
For the P5+1 states, such an agreement would ease concerns that Iran is using the  talks as a subterfuge while its centrifuges spin and for Iran it would suspend critical additional sanctions on its key economic sectors.
 
The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program.  Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner.  However, at this time, we reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively, and call on you to increase pressure through sanctions already in place. 
 
A nuclear weapons capable Iran threatens regional stability and international security and directly threatens U.S. national security interests.  As we previously cautioned, Iran has historically used negotiations to affect progress on its nuclear weapons program.  We must continue to realistically evaluate Iranian intentions, and we reiterate that the centrifuges cannot be allowed to continue spinning. 
 
We reject Iranian statements that Iran should be able to continue enrichment in its own territory.  Indeed, this is not a prerequisite for a peaceful nuclear energy program.  Countries from Canada, to Mexico and South Africa benefit from peaceful nuclear energy programs, without indigenous enrichment programs.  Iran does have a right to a peaceful nuclear energy program; it does not have a right to enrichment.
 
We remind you that the U.S. Department of State has characterized Iran as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism” and to be sure, verifiable dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear weapons program will not resolve the Iranian government’s deplorable abuse of basic human rights, denial of basic civil freedoms, or its ongoing activities that seek to destabilize the region. 
 
We remain hopeful that talks next week in Geneva lead to concrete Iranian actions to prove to the world that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapons capability.  However, if Iranian actions fail to match the rhetorical reassurances of the last two weeks, we are prepared to move forward with new sanctions to increase pressure on the government in Tehran.
 
Sincerely,
 
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Sen .Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA)
Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-DE)
 
October 4, 2013
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
We, members of the House of Representatives freshman class, Republican and Democrat, many of whom have recently returned from a visit to the Middle East, are deeply concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran. We hope your recent historic direct conversation with President Rouhani will help resolve this issue. We write to share with you our view that time is running out and America must continue to broaden and strengthen our enforcement of sanctions against Iran until Tehran takes meaningful steps to stop and reverse its illicit nuclear activities.
 
We share your conviction that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, and we are appreciative of the extensive sanctions your administration has implemented. At the same time, we believe there is a need to do more to pressure Iran to end its nuclear program. That is the reason the House overwhelmingly passed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 this summer.
 
Like you, we wish to see Iranian President Hassan Rouhani limit Iran's nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations. We acknowledge encouraging words coming from the new president. Sadly however, since his election, there is no substantive evidence to suggest that Iran is slowing, or even considering slowing, its nuclear pursuit. Instead, the 28 August International Atomic Energy Agency report suggests that Iran is, in fact, accelerating its nuclear efforts. Tehran continues its large-scale installation of advanced, higher-speed centrifuges that will enable significantly more rapid production of weapons-grade uranium. Iran is also pursuing the plutonium path and has begun production of heavy water to feed its Arak reactor.
 
We welcome the possibility of improved ties with Iran. But we believe that we must increase the intensity and accelerate the pace of our pressure on Iran as long as it is accelerating its efforts towards a nuclear weapons capability Until Iran fundamentally changes course, the United States must continue to toughen sanctions. We, therefore, urge you to utilize the full set of sanctions available under current law. We believe we must focus on the energy and financial sectors, but also step up pressure in other sectors, such as construction and foreign exchange, where Iran seeks to offset the effects of current sanctions.
 
Finally, as we try to open the path to negotiations, we believe it is imperative that you make clear to Tehran that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons; that we will step up sanctions until it reverses its nuclear program, and that we stand ready to use force if necessary.
 
Mr. President, we want to work with you to bring Iran to the table, including implementing increasingly tougher sanctions to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability. The world is watching and history will judge us by our success protecting the region and the world from a nuclear-armed Iran.
 
Sincerely,
 
Representative Bradley Schneider (D-IL)
Representative Luke Messer (R-IN)
 
Click here for a complete list of the 78 signatories.
 
 

 

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