United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Zarif: Sanctions Would Kill Nuclear Deal

            The following article first appeared in Time magazine. 

Robin Wright
      In a wide-ranging interview with TIME in Tehran on Dec. 7, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif spoke to writer and Iran expert Robin Wright about how the Geneva nuclear deal came together, how the government has to appeal to Iran’s own parliament not to undermine the interim pact, and how any new sanctions passed by the United  States Congress would kill the deal. The agreement, reached between Iran and six world powers in November, calls for a freeze on parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions. It is meant to pave the way for a final settlement between Iran and the international community on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran says the program is for civilian purposes only; world powers fear that it has a military component. Speaking in the ornate Foreign Ministry building, Zarif also indicated that Iran might not be wedded to Syria’s President Bashar Assad, a long-time ally, and he said that Iran hoped for a “duly monitored” democratic election in Syria. Iran’s most high-profile cabinet official warned that the deepening sectarianism playing out in Syria does not recognize borders and has implications “on the streets of Europe and America.”
What are biggest differences between Iran and the six major powers in making a permanent agreement? The biggest issues and obstacles?
            There are a number of issues. One is the removal of all sanctions – both U.N. Security Council sanctions as well as national and multilateral sanctions outside the U.N. – and second is the issue of Iran having an enrichment program.
            These are the two elements of the final deal that are going to be there. How we shape the final deal to include all these elements will be a matter for discussion. The two other members, Russia and China, may also have concerns but they are more confident about the peaceful nature of our nuclear program.
But what are the obstacles then?
            I don’t see any obstacles. I believe it’s rather straightforward. We can reach an agreement but there are some areas which are more difficult than others. One of those areas may be how we make sure that [Iran’s heavy water production plant at] Arak will remain peaceful. It is our intention that it will remain exclusively peaceful but how we give them the necessary assurances that it will remain peaceful that may be one of the more difficult areas.
Why do you even need Arak?
            Why do we even need Arak? Because we need to produce radio isotopes for medical purposes and even Arak alone is not enough for us. This was the technology that was available to us. Some people believe that we chose this technology because it provided other options. They’re badly mistaken.
            You see you have to look at Iran’s nuclear program from the perspective of denial, the fact that Iran was denied access to technology. And we used or we tried to get access to whatever was available to us and this technology was available to us. Other technologies were not. And we made a lot investment both in terms of human capital as well as in terms of material resources and we have reached almost the end game of getting this research reactor into actual operation. So it’s too late in the game for somebody to come and tell us that we have concerns that cannot be addressed. We have to find solutions. We believe there are scientific solutions for this and we are open to discussing them but that will be one of the more difficult issues.
Are you willing to accept a level of enrichment that is only for facilities that Iran has constructed?
            We are going to accept measures that would ensure that our program will remain exclusively peaceful but the rest will have to be decided in the negotiations in good faith. We have no intention of producing weapons or fissile material programs. We do not consider that to be in our interests or within our security doctrine.
What are the prospects that Iran will be part of the Geneva talks on Syria?
             If Iran is invited without preconditions Iran will be a part of the talks. I think people will decide to invite Iran if they are interested in having a helpful hand in finding a resolution to the Syrian tragedy and they will decide not to invite Iran to their own detriment. Iran believes that what is happening in Syria can have a huge impact on the future of our region and the future beyond the region. Because we believe that if the sectarian divide that some people are trying to fan in Syria becomes a major issue it will not recognize any boundaries. It will go beyond the boundaries of Syria. It will go beyond the boundaries of this region. You will find implications of this on the streets of Europe and America.

Did you or any other Iranian diplomats discuss Iran’s position on Syria with American diplomats?
            No, we didn’t except for a very, very brief sort of reference en passé in my first meeting with John Kerry.

Do you think it’s possible that the many different sides of the Syrian conflict and the outside parties to that conflict can find common ground?
            It’s up to the Syrians to decide; we can only help. We can only facilitate. And I think Iran will not be an impediment to a political settlement in Syria. We have every interest in helping the process in a peaceful direction. We are satisfied, totally satisfied, convinced that there is no military solution in Syria and that there is a need to find a political solution in Syria. If you want to prevent a void, the types of consequences that we are talking about, I mean if you want to avoid extremism in this region, if you want to prevent a Syria becoming a breeding ground for extremists who will use Syria basically as a staging ground to attack other countries – be it Lebanon, be it Iraq, be it Jordan,  Saudi Arabia, even Turkey – these countries are going to be susceptible to a wave of extremism that will find its origins in Syria and the continuation of this tragedy in Syria can only provide the best breeding ground for extremists who use this basically as a justification, as a recruiting climate in order to wage the same type of activity in other parts of this region.
Is Iran going to stick at the side of Bashar Assad?
            We will stick to the side of stability and resolution to Syria. But at the end of the day, we are not going to decide who will rule Syria. It should be the Syrian people to decide. We’re proposing that we should not give ourselves the role that the Syrian people should play.
We’re hearing that you’re still facing tough opposition in the Gulf and that Saudi Arabia doesn’t even want to see you yet.
            I was well received by every country in the Persian Gulf that I visited [on a recent trip]. I had extremely positive discussions both on regional issues, the fact that all of them welcomed the  Geneva agreement, the fact that all of them considered that as a positive development for security and cooperation in our region, the fact that everyone expected a new chapter in relations between Iran and countries on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf. And that was very encouraging for me.
            As for Saudi Arabia, I indicated to them that I was prepared to go to Saudi Arabia. Meetings were arranged. But there was a problem with the meetings. We could not arrange all of the meetings that should have been arranged. We decided to go at a time that was more convenient. It doesn’t mean a political problem between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Now we have differences. In every family you have differences of views, even between brothers and sisters. And we all have our differences. There are issues on which we have different opinions, different approaches, different strategies, different tactics. It wasn’t that they were not prepared to see me. 
But you did mention the deepening sectarian gap in the region personified by the differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
            We both have members of both sects among our population and it’s in our interest to avoid this, to have a cordial and brotherly relations between various Islamic sects. So for Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is important and very significant to reach a common understanding on how to avoid this and not to personify such a sectarian difference.
What opposition are you facing at home to the Geneva deal? And what are you doing about it?
            The most opposition here emanates from the lack of trust because we do not have a past on which we can build. It’s a psychological barrier to interaction that we need to overcome. The fundamental reason for opposition: they believe the West and particularly the United States are not sincere, are not interested about reaching an agreement. They believe that they will try to use the mechanism of negotiations in order to derail the process, in order to find new excuses. And some of the statements out of Washington give them every reason to be concerned. Now we know that Washington is catering to various constituencies and is trying to address these various constituencies. We read their statements in the light of their domestic constituency process. But not everybody in Iran does that. We believe that the U.S. government should stick to its words, should remain committed to what it stated in Geneva, both on the paper as well as in the discussions leading to the plan of action.
After all these negotiations, do you see the prospect for working together with the United States on other subjects, including Afghanistan?
            We have to wait and see whether the behavior that will be exhibited in the course of negotiations and implementation of our agreements on the nuclear issue creates the necessary confidence for us to move to other areas.
Is there anything different now between Iran and the United States after the talks in Geneva after the process that’s been launched?
            In terms of using these talks to foster confidence, I don’t think we have been very successful in that process. Because the talks have been followed by public statements that have not differed that significantly from statements that used to be made before the talks.  Basically in this day and age, you don’t have secret negotiations, everything is done is out in the open. You cannot pick and choose your audience. And that is one of the beauties of globalization and one of the hazards of globalization whichever way you want to say it. When Secretary Kerry talks to the U.S. Congress, the most conservative constituencies in Iran also hear him andinterpret his remarks. So it’s important for everyone to be careful what they say to their constituencies because others are listening and others are drawing their own conclusions.

What happens if Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they don’t go into effect for six months?
            The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States. I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail. But if we start doing that, I don’t think that we will be getting anywhere. Now we have tried to ask our members of parliament to avoid that. We may not succeed. The U.S. government may not succeed. If we don’t try, then we can’t expect the other side to accept that we are serious about the process. 
What can you tell us about the back channel that began last March?
            I can tell you that we started discussing this issue on the sidelines of the P5+1 with various countries but with all the countries that were involved we have normal diplomatic relations. It may become more interesting when it involves the United States. That started a long time ago – probably three years ago. Our nuclear negotiator at that time, Dr. [Saeed] Jalili, met with [Undersecretary of State] Bill Burns on the sidelines of Geneva. And since then, there have been back and forth discussions between Iran and the U.S. inside and on the sidelines of P5+1. So that has taken place and I think with some positive outcome.
Did it make possible, did it facilitate Geneva?
            I think had it not been for bilateral discussions between Iran and various members of P5+1 we would not have had a positive outcome. Formal meetings of Iran plus six countries and [Senior E.U. foreign policy official] Cathy Ashton usually remain very formal. If you want to reach agreement you need to talk to all of these individually as well as collectively. So we did talk to all members of the P5+1 individually. But as it was not a big deal for us to talk to France or Russia or even the U.K. For the U.S., it was a different issue. And our discussions with the U.S. on the sidelines of P5+1 became a story in themselves.
How alive is that channel now?
            When my colleagues go to Vienna, probably they’ll have side discussions with the U.S. and that’s a very important channel. The U.S. is probably the most important player because it has the largest amount of sanctions against Iran, most of them or all of them illegal in our view. But nevertheless it has a lot of sanctions. It imposes a lot of sanctions on various countries that do business with Iran and that is why it has to do the most. In the resolution, it had a lot to do in the creation of the trouble so it has a lot to do in the resolution of the trouble. So that requires Iran and the U.S. to have a lot of discussions on the sides.
Would you have had Geneva without that back channel with the United States?
            Well, hypothetical questions: we would not have been able to reach an agreement without having discussed all various issues on the sidelines of P5+1 with various members, particularly the United States.

This article is reposted from Time magazine.


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.


Kerry Warns Congress Against New Sanctions

           On December 10, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Congress to hold off on imposing new sanctions while world powers seek a comprehensive deal on Tehran’s nuclear program. “We’re asking you to give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs,” he said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Kerry argued that the interim nuclear agreement, announced by Iran and the world's six major powers on November 24, is an important first step towards solving the dispute. He also emphasized the delicate nature of the diplomatic situation. “One path could lead to an enduring resolution… The other path could lead to continued hostility and potentially to conflict,” Kerry warned.
            Some members of Congress, however, think Washington will have greater leverage in future negotiations if it imposes new sanctions. The committee’s ranking Democratic, Eliot Engel (NY), told Kerry that new sanctions “could potentially strengthen your hand.” After the three-hour hearing, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Engel stated they would continue working with the Senate to pass a bill that would immediately trigger new sanctions if a satisfactory agreement is not reached within six months.
            On the same day as the hearing, however, the Senate Banking Committee voted to refrain from passing new sanctions “The President and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now,” Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) told Politico. The following are Kerry’s opening remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

            SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you very, very much. Ranking Member Engel, Members of the Committee, thanks very much for welcoming me back, and I am happy to be back here. There’s no more important issue in American foreign policy than the question of the one we’re focused on here today.
            And obviously, from the Chairman’s introduction, you know that I come here with an enormous amount of respect for your prerogatives on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as we did in the Senate. And it’s entirely appropriate that we’re here to satisfy your questions, hopefully allay your concerns and fears, because I believe the agreement that we have ought to do that and I think the path that we’re on should do that. And as I describe it to you, I hope you’ll leave here today with a sense of confidence that we know what we’re doing, our eyes are open, we have no illusions. It’s a tough road. I don’t come here with any guarantees whatsoever. And I think none of what we’ve done in this agreement begs that notion. In other words, everything is either verifiable or clear, and there are a set of requirements ahead of us which will even grow more so in the course of a comprehensive agreement. And we can talk about that – I’m sure we will – in the course of the day.
            Let me just begin by saying that President Obama and I have both been very clear, as every member of this committee has been, that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon. And it is the President’s centerpiece of his foreign policy: Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. This imperative is at the top of our national security agenda, and I know it’s at the top of yours as well. So I really do welcome the opportunity to have a discussion not only about what the first-step agreement does, but also to clarify – I hope significantly – what it doesn’t do, because there’s a certain, as there is in any of these kinds of things, a certain mythology that sometimes grows up around them.
            The title of today’s hearing is “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Does It Further U.S. National Security?” And I would state to you unequivocally the answer is yes. The national security of the United States is stronger under this first-step agreement than it was before. Israel’s national security is stronger than it was the day before we entered into this agreement. And the Gulf and Middle East interests are more secure than they were the day before we entered this agreement.
            Now, here’s how:
            Put simply, once implemented – and it will be in the next weeks – this agreement halts the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – halts the progress – and rolls it back in certain places for the first time in nearly ten years. It provides unprecedented monitoring and inspections. While we negotiate to see if we can conclude a comprehensive agreement – if we can conclude – and I came away from our preliminary negotiations with serious questions about whether or not they’re ready and willing to make some of the choices that have to be made. But that’s what we put to test over the next months. While we negotiate to see if we can conclude a comprehensive agreement that addresses all of our concerns, there’s an important fact: Iran’s nuclear program will not move forward.
            Under this agreement, Iran will have to neutralize – end – its entire stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which you all know is a short step away from weapons-grade uranium. So if you remember when Prime Minister Netanyahu held up that cartoon at the UN with the bomb in it in 2012, he showed the world a chart that highlighted the type of uranium that he was most concerned about – and he was talking about that 20 percent stockpile. Under this agreement, Iran will forfeit all – not part, all – of that 20 percent, that 200 kilogram stockpile. Gone.
            Under this agreement, Iran will also halt the enrichment above 5 percent and it will not be permitted to grow its stockpile of 3.5 percent enriched uranium. Iran cannot increase the number of centrifuges in operation, and it will not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.
            Under this agreement, we will have increased transparency of Iran’s nuclear program, giving us a window into their activities that we don’t have today. We will have access to Fordow, a secret facility in a mountaintop that we’ve never been in. We will now get into it not once or twice – every single day. We will get into Natanz and have the ability to know not once or twice, but every single day what is happening in Natanz. And we will have access each month to the Arak facility, where we will have an extraordinary ability to be able to know through inspections whether or not they are complying with their requirements.
            Now, this monitoring is going to increase our visibility into Iran’s nuclear program as well as our ability to react should Iran renege on this agreement. And taken together, these first steps will help prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue advancing its nuclear program in secret – a concern that everybody on this dais shares.
            Now, in addition – this is very important – one of our greatest concerns has been the Arak – A-r-a-k – nuclear reactor facility. And this is a heavy-water, plutonium-capable reactor. That’s unacceptable to us. In the first step, we have now succeeded in preventing them from doing any additional fuel testing, from transferring any fuel rods into the reactor, and from installing any of the uninstalled components which are critical to their ability to be able to advance that particular reactor. So it’s frozen stone cold where it is in terms of its nuclear threat and capacity. Iran will not be able to commission the Arak reactor during the course of this interim first-step agreement. That’s very important.
            Now, we have strong feelings about what will happen in a final comprehensive agreement. From our point of view, Arak is unacceptable. You can’t have a heavy-water reactor. But we’ve taken the first step in the context of a first step, and they will have to halt production of fuel for this reactor and not transfer any fuel or heavy water to the reactor site. It cannot conduct any additional fuel testing for this. and Iran is required to give us design information for the site. We’re actually going to have the plans for the site delivered to us. We’ve long sought this information, and it will provide critical insight into the reactor that has not been previously available to us through intel or any other sources.
            Now, those are the highlights of what we get in this agreement. And I know many of you have asked, “Well, what does Iran get in return?” And I’ve seen outlandish numbers out there in some articles talking about 30, 40, 50 billion dollars and so forth, or disintegration of the sanctions. My friends, that’s just not true. It’s absolutely not true. We have red-teamed and vetted and cross-examined and run through all the possible numbers through the intel community, through the Treasury Department, through the people in charge of sanctions, and our estimates are that at the end of the six months, if they fully comply, if this holds, they would have somewhere in the vicinity of $7 billion total.
            And this is something that I think you ought to take great pride in. I was here as chairman when we put his in place. I voted for these sanctions, like we all did in the United States Senate. I think we were 100 to nothing as a matter of fact. And we put them in place for a purpose. The purpose was to get to this negotiation. The purpose was to see whether or not diplomacy and avoidance of war could actually deliver the same thing or better than you might be able to get through confrontation.
            Now, sanctions relief is limited to the very few targeted areas that are specified in this agreement for a total of about the $7 billion that I’ve described. And we will continue to vigorously – Ranking Member Engel, we will absolutely not only will we – I mean, this is going to actually result in a greater intensity of focus on the sanctions because I’ve sent a message to every single facility of the United States anywhere in the world that every agency is to be on alert to see any least movement by anybody towards an effort to try to circumvent or undo the sanctions. We don’t believe that will happen. And one of the reasons it won’t happen is we have a united P5+1. Russia, China, the United States, France, Germany, and Great Britain are all united in this assurance that we will not undo the sanctions and that we will stay focused on their enforcement.
            Now, all the sanctions on Iran further on its abysmal human rights record, over its support for terrorism, which you’ve mentioned, and over its destabilizing activities in places like Syria – those sanctions will all remain in effect. They’ve nothing to do with the nuclear. They’re there for the reasons they’re there, and we’re not taking them off. This agreement does provide Iran with a very limited, temporary, and reversible relief. And it’s reversible at any time in the process if there is noncompliance. If Iran fails to meet its commitments, we can and will revoke this relief. And we will be the first ones to come to you if this fails to ask you for additional sanctions.
            The total amount of relief is somewhere between the 6 and 7 billion that I described. That is less than one percent of Iran’s $1 trillion dollar economy, and it is a small fraction of the $100 billion-plus of oil revenue alone that we have deprived Iran of since 2012.
            I want you to keep in mind this really pales in comparison to the amount of pressure that we are leaving in place. Iran will lose $30 billion over the course of this continued sanctions regime over the next six months. So compare that – they may get $7 billion of relief, but they’re going to lose $30 billion. It’s going to go into the frozen accounts. It will be added to the already 45 billion or so that’s in those accounts now that they can’t access.
            And during the six-month negotiating period, Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase. Oil sanctions continue as they are today. There’s no diminishment of the oil and banking sanctions that you put in place. We have not lifted them. We haven’t eased them. That means that as we negotiate, oil sanctions will continue to cost Iran about the 30 billion I just described, and Iran will actually lose more money each month that we negotiate than it will gain in relief as a result of this agreement. And while we provide 4.2 billion in relief over the six months, which is direct money we will release from the frozen account, we are structuring this relief in a way that it is tied to concrete, IAEA-verified steps that they’ve agreed to take on the nuclear program. That means that the funds will be transferred not all at once, but in installments, in order to ensure that Iran fulfills its commitments. And it means that Iran will not get the full measure of relief until the end of the negotiating period, when and if we verify, certify, that they have complied.
            So now we have committed – along with our P5+1 partners – to not impose any new nuclear-related sanctions for the period of the six months. I’m sure there are questions about this. I know I’ve seen, and there are some in Congress who’ve suggested they ought to do it. I’m happy to answer them. I will tell you that in my 29 years, just about shy of the full 29 I’ve served in the Senate, I was always a leading proponent of the sanctions against Iran. I’m proud of what we did here. But it was undeniable that the pressure we put on Iran through these sanctions is exactly what has brought Iran to the table today, and I think Congress deserves an enormous amount of credit for that.
            But I don’t think that any of us thought we were just imposing these sanctions for the sake of imposing them. We did it because we knew that it would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear program. That was the whole point of the regime.
            Now, has Iran changed its nuclear calculus? I honestly don’t think we can say for sure yet. And we certainly don’t just take words at face value. Believe me, this is not about trust. And given the history – and Mr. Chairman, you mentioned the question of deception – given the history, we are all rightly skeptical about whether or not people are ready to make the hard choices necessary to live up to this. But we now have the best chance we’ve ever had to rigorously test this proposition without losing anything. At least twice in this agreement, it is mentioned that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and that is specific as to the final agreement. In addition, where it does talk about the potential of enrichment in the future, it says “mutually agreed upon” at least four times – three or four times in that paragraph. It has to be agreed. We don’t agree, it doesn’t happen.
            Every one of us remembers Ronald Reagan’s maxim when he was negotiating with the Soviet Union: Trust, but verify. We have a new one: Test, but verify. Test, but verify. And that is exactly what we intend to do in the course of this process.
            Now, we’ve all been through tough decisions. Those of you in the top dais have been around here a long time, and you’ve seen – we all know the kinds of tough decisions we have to make. But we’re asking you to give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs, and that includes asking you while we negotiate that you hold off imposing new sanctions.
            Now, I’m not saying never. I just told you a few minutes ago if this doesn’t work, we’re coming back and asking you for more. I’m just saying not right now. Let me be very clear. This is a very delicate diplomatic moment, and we have a chance to address peacefully one of the most pressing national security concerns that the world faces today with gigantic implications of the potential of conflict. We’re at a crossroads. We’re at one of those, really, hinge points in history. One path could lead to an enduring resolution in international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The other path could lead to continued hostility and potentially to conflict. And I don’t have to tell you that these are high stakes.
            We have an obligation to give these negotiations an opportunity to succeed. And we can’t ask the rest of the P5+1 and our partners around the world to hold up their ends of the bargain if the United States isn’t going to uphold its end of the bargain. If we appear to be going off on our own tangent and do whatever we want, we will potentially lose their support for the sanctions themselves. Because we don’t just enforce them by ourselves; we need their help. And I don’t want to threaten the unity that we currently have with respect to this approach, particularly when it doesn’t cost us a thing to go through this process knowing that we could put sanctions in place additionally in a week, and we would be there with you seeking to do it.
            I don’t want to give the Iranians a public excuse to flout the agreement. It could lead our international partners to think that we’re not an honest broker and that we didn’t mean it when we said that sanctions were not an end in and of themselves, but a tool to pressure the Iranians into a diplomatic solution. Well, we’re in that. And six months will fly by so fast, my friends, that before you know it we’re either going to know which end of this we’re at or not.
            It's possible, also, that it could even end up decreasing the pressure on Iran by leading to the fraying of the sanctions regime. I will tell you that there were several P5+1 partners at the table ready to accept an agreement significantly less than what we fought for and got in the end.
Mr. Chairman, do you want me to wrap?
            CHAIRMAN ROYCE: If you could, Mr. Secretary.
            SECRETARY KERRY: Okay. Let me just say to you that the Iranians know that this threat is on the table.
            I do want to say one quick word about Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. I speak to the Prime Minister usually a couple times a week or several times. I talked to him yesterday morning, and I am leaving tomorrow and I'll be seeing him Thursday night. We are totally agreed that we need to focus on this final comprehensive agreement. And Yossi Cohen, the national security advisor to the Prime Minister, is here in Washington this week working with our experts. And we will work hand in hand closely, not just with Israel, but with our friends in the Gulf and others around the world, to understand everybody's assessment of what constitutes the best comprehensive agreement that absolutely guarantees that the program, whatever it is to be, is peaceful, and that we have expanded by an enormous amount the breakout time.
            This first-step agreement, Mr. Chairman, actually does expand the breakout time. Because of the destruction of the 20 percent, because of the lack of capacity to move forward on all those other facilities, we are expanding the amount of time that it would take them to break out. And, clearly, in a final agreement, we intend to make this failsafe that we can guarantee that they will not have access to nuclear weapons.
            So I’d just simply put the rest of my testimony in the record, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to your questions.


Poll: Americans Support Deal but are Skeptical

            Six in ten Americans support the interim deal on Iran's controversial nuclear program, according to a new AP-GfK poll. But 44 percent of respondents are not confident that it will lead to a more comprehensive plan to ensure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. And a slight majority of Americans, 55 percent, disapprove or lean towards disapproving President Barack Obama’s handling of Iran. The following are excerpts from the poll conducted from December 5 to 9.

Overall, do you approve, disapprove, or neither approve or disapprove the way Barack Obama is handling the situation in Iran?
Approve: 30 percent
Lean toward approving: 14 percent
Total approve: 44 percent
Disapprove: 40 percent
Lean toward disapproving: 15
Total disapprove: 55
Refused/Not answered: 1 percent
Don’t lean either way: 1 percent
Do you approve, disapprove, or neither approve nor disapprove of the interim agreement reached between Iran and six world powers that is designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program?
Approve: 32
Lean approve: 28
Total approve: 59 percent
Disapprove: 19 percent
Lean disapprove: 19 percent
Total disapprove: 38 percent
Neither – don’t lean: 1 percent
Refused/Not answered: 2 percent
How likely do you think it is that these initial steps toward curbing Iran’s nuclear program reached between Iran and six world powers will lead to a more comprehensive plan to ensure that Iran does not build its own nuclear weapon?
Extremely likely: 2 percent
Very likely: 9 percent
Somewhat likely: 41 percent
Not too likely: 26 percent
Not at all likely: 18 percent
Refused/Not answered: 4 percent
Click here for the full poll report.

Iran & South Asia #1: Pakistan’s Delicate Balancing Act

Interview with Moeed Yusuf

What is the status of relations between the Pakistan’s Sunni-dominated government and Iran’s Shiite theocracy under the new leaders, who both were elected in mid-2013? How do Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif get along? On what issues do they collaborate? On what issues are they divided?
            Iran’s relationship with Pakistan is both cooperative and competitive. The neighbors coordinate on issues like trade and border security while often diverging on foreign policy. But Prime Minister Sharif and President Rouhani seem committed to improving bilateral relations.
      In September 2013, the leaders met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. “Pakistan and Iran enjoy [good] relations that are deeply rooted in historical, cultural and religious commonalities,” Sharif told Rouhani. Pakistanis generally have a positive view of their Western neighbor. A 2013 Pew poll found that 69 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable view of Iran, the highest percentage of 39 countries polled worldwide on perceptions of the Islamic Republic.
            ECONOMY: During their meeting, Sharif told Rouhani that Pakistan especially wanted to improve economic ties. Both leaders emphasized their commitment to completing a multi-billion-dollar pipeline to deliver Iranian natural gas to Pakistan. The two countries, however, have long expressed grand aspirations for economic cooperation that have not materialized.
In 1964 Iran, Pakistan and Turkey established the Regional Cooperation for Development organization to promote trade, development and investment among the three countries. Its successor, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), expanded membership in 1992 to include seven other neighboring states. In November 2013, Iran took over ECO’s rotating chairmanship at a ministerial meeting in Tehran.
           Pakistan has long viewed Iran, along with Afghanistan, as a potential gateway to trade with Western Asia. Yet Iran-Pakistan trade only amounts to some $1 billion annually. The two countries hope to boost trade to $5 billion by 2016.
            REGIONAL ISSUES: But on many foreign affairs issues, Iran and Pakistan fall into opposing blocs. Pakistan is aligned with two of Iran’s chief adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Islamabad’s relationship with Washington is a particularly prickly issue for Tehran. But Pakistan wants to avoid getting caught in potential crossfire between and Tehran and Washington. Pakistan does not want another war on its border, so it opposes any military strike on Iran and tries to balance its relations with both countries. Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington actually hosts the Iranian interests section.
           Pakistan is also particularly concerned about Iran’s relationship with India. New Delhi has reportedly invested $100 million in Iran’s southeastern port of Chabahar (below), which enables Indian exports to Iran and landlocked Afghanistan to bypass Pakistan. Chabahar is just 44 miles west of Pakistan’s Gwadar port and may help India expand trade ties into Central Asia. New Delhi has also reportedly invested in Afghan highways to Iran that would reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan. India would also be less dependent on land routes through Pakistan to trade with Afghanistan.
            RELIGIOUS ISSUES: A major sticking point between Pakistan and Iran is sectarian violence. Iran is particularly concerned about violence against Pakistan’s Shiite minority. Tehran alleges that Saudi promotion of hardline Wahhabi ideology among Pakistanis has inspired Sunni groups to attack Shiites. But many Pakistani experts consider Sunni-Shiite violence to be partly a product of a proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh.
Pakistan became the world’s first Muslim nuclear power in the early 1970s and later built first nuclear weapons in the Islamic world. What is Islamabad’s view of Iran’s controversial nuclear program?
            Islamabad generally supports Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear energy program. Most Pakistanis find fault with the West’s approach to the Iranian nuclear dispute.
      But Islamabad would most likely oppose Tehran weaponizing its nuclear program. Pakistan’s regional clout would likely wane if another one of its four neighbors — in addition to China and India— attained nuclear weapons. Pakistan denies widespread suspicions that Saudi Arabia may be interested in receiving assistance in the nuclear field or with some form of defense against a future Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Islamabad does not want to get embroiled in a wider conflict and would thus want to avoid any development that could escalate the situation.
            At the same time, Pakistan would almost certainly not condone an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. A U.S. or Israeli strike could lead to increased turbulence on Pakistan’s southwestern border. In short, Islamabad is in an unenviable position. It is caught in the middle and does not want to upset Washington, Riyadh or Tehran.
Tehran and Islamabad have both tried to gain influence in war-torn Afghanistan since the 1970s. What issues have the two countries cooperated on? What has divided them?
           Tehran and Islamabad have backed rival constituencies in Afghanistan. Iran has historically supported the Shiite Hazara minority to gain a foothold of influence. And it has invested in developing the western province of Herat (below). Afghanistan was a particularly contentious issue for Pakistan-Iran relations in the 1990s. Tehran opposed the Taliban, the Pakistan-backed group of extremists who took over the country in 1996. Shiite Iran nearly went to war against the Sunni Taliban after the massacre Afghan Shiites and several Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998.
      Tehran’s influence in Afghanistan cannot compare to Islamabad’s. Pakistan has deep ethnic and historical ties to Afghanistan going back thousands of years and a geographical advantage that is difficult to challenge. The Pashtun ethnic group, long dominant in Afghan politics, is also spread across Pakistan’s northern provinces and that bond runs deep at the people-to-people level even though state relations are not always cordial.
           Islamabad’s clout, however, has partially waned since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both Tehran and India have stepped up efforts to back constituencies that have traditionally been on the opposite side of Pakistan’s preferred partners in Afghanistan.
           At the same time, Pakistan and Iran have cooperated in the fight against drug smuggling from Afghanistan. Both countries are gateways for exporting opiates to Europe and other overseas markets. Domestic drug use also is fast becoming a serious problem in Pakistan and Iran.
Iran and Pakistan first discussed plans to jointly build a nearly 1,000-mile natural gas pipeline in 1994. Nearly two decades later, Iran is close to finishing the 560 mile portion on its side of the border. But Pakistan is lagging behind. What were the goals? How does it influence Iran-Pakistani relations, whether diplomatic, commercial or security? What are the current obstacles and constraints—and why?
            Starting in the 1990s, Pakistan began searching for regional options to better meet its population’s energy demands. The pipeline offered an opportunity for Iran to more efficiently transfer natural gas to its eastern neighbor. Pakistan’s petroleum ministry projected annual savings of $2.4 billion on gas that could generate 4,000 megawatts of power. Completion of the pipeline might have improved commercial relations between the two countries. But divergent foreign policies probably would have kept the two from becoming close allies. The pipeline would have been more of an insurance policy to keep them from falling out.
            The main obstacles to completion are U.S. and E.U. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector. Pakistan could incur stiff financial penalties for importing gas from Iran. Washington has tried to persuade Pakistan to investigate alternative ways to meets its energy demands.
            Pakistan also faces numerous logistical obstacles to construction. It has struggled to finance construction of its part of the pipeline. In October, Islamabad even asked cash-strapped Iran for $2 billon to help builds its side of the pipeline. Actual construction of the pipeline may also prove difficult because the planned route crosses the restive Balochistan region.
            Pakistan also has less of an incentive to complete the project since India dropped out of the project in 2009, reportedly due to U.S. pressure. Observers initially dubbed the project the “peace pipeline” in hopes that it would promote better India-Pakistan relations. Islamabad was particularly interested in valuable revenue from transit fees. That said, the formal agreement between Iran and Pakistan on the pipeline implies that Islamabad must build its part of the infrastructure or pay heavy damages to Iran. So if Pakistan has to get out, it has to find a creative way of calling off the deal. During the November ECO meeting, officials from both countries agreed to fast track talks on the pipeline and chart a more realistic time frame for construction.
Iran’s 500-mile border with Pakistan runs through the homeland of the Baloch —a Sunni ethnic group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against both countries. How have the two countries cooperated on this issue? 
            Both countries oppose Balochi aspirations for independence. Iran is particularly concerned that the Balochi secessionist movement in Pakistan could spill over into its own Sistan-Balochistan province. Some Iranian officials have been skeptical about Pakistan’s commitment to cracking down on Jundallah, an armed Balochi separatist group. Tehran has alleged that Jundallah stages attacks on Iranian forces from sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border. Despite Iranian suspicions, Tehran and Islamabad have quietly cooperated on counterterrorism operations.
           But tensions flared in late October after an armed group ambushed and killed 14 Iranian border guards. “The fact that such incidents take place on the border and bandits retreat to the neighboring country after committing their crimes make that country [Pakistan] responsible and it cannot shirk responsibility,” warned Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular and Iranian Expatriates Affairs Hassan Qashqavi. Some officials want Iranian forces to be able to pursue armed groups retreating into Pakistani territory. Neither side, however, has any interest in letting their disagreement over this issue boil over.
Moeed W. Yusuf is director of South Asia Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace. 
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
Photo Credits: President.ir, NuclearEnergy.ir, Herat city by Fazl Ahmad (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Iran-Pakistan Pipeline via VOA


Rouhani Calls for National Consensus

      On December 7, President Hassan Rouhani called for national consensus on his goals to improve relations with the outside world and reinvigorate the economy. He also pledged to defend Iran’s nuclear program in a speech at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University.  “Nuclear energy is our absolute right, yes, but the right to progress, development, improving people’s livelihood and welfare are also our rights,” Rouhani told more than 1,000 students. Iran observes Students’ Day annually on December 7 to commemorate the 1953 killing of three University of Tehran students protesting a visit by U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.

           Students groups from opposing political currents shouted slogans over each other. Some reformists called for the end of the “security atmosphere” and release of political prisoners, especially former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, the leaders of the opposition Green Movement. Conservative members of the Basij militia chanted “Death to America.” Rouhani tried to calm the students, arguing that Iranians need to tolerate each other before moving to solve complex foreign policy issues. The following are excerpts and a video clip from Rouhani’s speech.
Nuclear Program and Diplomacy
            “We need to strike the right balance between idealism and realism. There are those who want to close the gateways to this country. We know that is impossible… You all witnessed who became isolated after the Geneva agreement – the warmongers and those who don’t respect international law.”
            “Our centrifuges should spin, the economic life of people should spin too… Atomic energy, as well as nuclear technologies and enriching uranium are our rights.”
Domestic Infighting
            “This government is committed to all its promises, but we need internal consensus. We need to more tolerant, rational and avoid being too emotional… If we cannot solve a domestic issue of our own with calm, with reason and within the framework of the constitution by creating a consensus, if we cannot solve domestic issues, how can we claim we want to solve the complex issues of the region and the world?”
            “To take a step forward, it’s key to be more tolerant of differences, more rational and moderate in our beliefs.”
            The administration is “supporting entrepreneurship to develop a knowledge economy. The government set aside $1 billion for the Innovation Fund’s knowledge-based companies.”
            “We should create an environment that not only discourages people from leaving, but also encourages those who have left to come back to Iran.”
            “Indeed from the constitutional movement to now, students have played a key role in Iran’s journey towards independence and self-determination… Students have always been pioneers in pursuing freedom and offering constructive criticism.”


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