United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Obama: Nuclear Deal an Open Question

            On November 5, President Barack Obama said that nuclear talks have been constructive but the main question is whether Tehran’s leaders “can manage to say yes to what clearly would be better for Iran.” In a press conference, he noted that a “sizable portion” of Iran’s political elite still finds it convenient to blame America for every ill. When asked if he has the power to unilaterally relax sanctions as part of a deal, Obama said he will wait to see if the world’s six major powers can reach a deal with Iran and then engage with Congress. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” he said. The following are excerpted remarks by Obama.

QUESTION: Another deadline coming up is on your negotiators by November 24th. I’m interested what your current perspective is on how those negotiations are going. Also, if it is your feeling that you have the power to implement any type of agreement that’s reached without any action from Congress?
OBAMA: On Iran, because of the unprecedented sanctions that we put in place that really did have a crippling effect on Iran’s economy, they’ve come to the table and they’ve negotiated seriously around providing assurances that they're not developing a nuclear weapon for the first time.  And they have abided by the interim rules.  We have been able to freeze their program, in some cases reduce the stockpile of nuclear material that they already had in hand.  And the discussions, the negotiations have been constructive. 
The international community has been unified and cohesive.  There haven’t been a lot of cracks in our alliance.  Even countries where we have some differences, like Russia, have agreed with us and have worked with us cooperatively in trying to find ways to make sure that we can verify and have confidence going forward that Iran doesn't have the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon that could not only threaten friends of ours like Israel, trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, but could over the long term, potentially threaten us.
Whether we can actually get a deal done, we’re going to have to find out over the next three to four weeks.  We have presented to them a framework that would allow them to meet their peaceful energy needs.  And if, in fact, what their leadership says, that they don’t want to develop a nuclear a weapon -- if that is, in fact, true, then they’ve got an avenue here to provide that assurance to the world community, and in a progressive, step-by-step, verifiable way, allow them to get out from under sanctions so that they can reenter as full-fledged members of the international community.
But they have their own politics, and there’s a long tradition of mistrust between the two countries.  And there’s a sizeable portion of the political elite that cut its teeth on anti-Americanism and still finds it convenient to blame America for every ill that there is.  And whether they can manage to say yes to what clearly would be better for Iran, better for the region, and better for the world, is an open question.  We’ll find out over the next several weeks.
QUESTION: Sir, on whether or not you have the power unilaterally to relax sanctions to implement an agreement?
OBAMA:  There are a series of different sanctions.  There are multilateral sanctions; there are U.N. sanctions;  there are sanctions that have been imposed by us, this administration, unilaterally.  And I think it’s different for each of those areas.
But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  What I want to do is see if we, in fact, have a deal.  If we do have a deal that I have confidence will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that we can convince the world and the public will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, then it will be time to engage in Congress.  And I think that we’ll be able to make a strong argument to Congress that this is the best way for us to avoid a nuclear Iran; that it will be more effective than any other alternatives we might take, including military action.
But that requires it being a good deal.  And I’ve said consistently that I’d rather have no deal than a bad deal -- because what we don’t want to do is lift sanctions and provide Iran legitimacy but not have the verifiable mechanisms to make sure that they don’t break out and produce a nuclear weapon.
Click here for a full transcript of Obama's remarks.

Former US Hostages: Their Thoughts on New Iran Diplomacy

            The United States marks the 35th anniversary of the American Embassy seizure in Tehran on November 4 — less than three weeks before the due date for a nuclear deal with Iran. The latest series of talks, launched in October 2013, has featured the highest level engagement between the Islamic Republic and the United States since the embassy takeover, when 52 Americans were held for 444 days. Iran still marks the takeover with an annual commemoration in front of the former U.S. Embassy. But this year's ceremonies were subdued compared to previous years.
            In fall 2013, The Iran Primer invited former hostages to comment on the new diplomatic effort, which, one year later, is still focused on ending the longstanding dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Their opinions varied widely. 

John Limbert, former political officer in 1979 and later the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran in the Obama administration
      It's about time for new dialogue. Thirty-four years is long enough for us to be stuck on a road to nowhere. Now we are dealing with a delicate plant that will require very careful handling if it is not to rot or wither.
Bruce Laingen, former chargé d'affaires (senior U.S. diplomat taken hostage)
      Is it time for a dialogue with Iran?  The answer is easy: It is high time.  Talking with Iran is long overdue and should begin without conditions.
      It is obviously difficult for anyone who has not seen the specifics taken by the world’s six major powers and the Iranians, but both sides need clarity in their objectives . The absence of openness means that there must be some stepping back by both sides. 
      But given that the Iranians are the principal participant in the contest, the lead must come from them in greater transparency on long-range objectives.  Just what are the Iranian government’s real intentions in its nuclear agenda? It has long been lacking in clarity. The U.S. government needs to know better than we do now. Just where do the Iranians want to take their purposes and objectives? Tell us, please. We are weary of reading between the lines!   
Barry Rosen, former press attaché
      The apparent new dialogue, initiated by President [Hassan] Rouhani, is nothing but the change of the public face of the regime in Tehran in order to rid the country of the international sanctions that are crushing the economic and fiscal system of Iran. In order to accomplish the destruction of the sanctions, the regime is talking about a change in its nuclear program. Some hope that this is real and that Iran will show all its sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency and be a willing partner in lowering the or even halting the refinement of uranium, which Iran says is for peaceful nuclear energy.
      I believe that Iran's record is quite clear on nuclear refinement. The regime has consistently been enriching uranium at levels above what is need for nuclear energy, and thus one can only think that Iran is moving along in its plan to use its enrichment. Iran has used its facilities to add approximately 1,000 centrifuges to increase enrichment capacity.
     I can't see the regime in Tehran changing policy toward the United States for other reasons. The keystone of the Islamic Republic is still “Death to America,” no matter what is said in news reports. How will this regime be considered legitimate if it does a complete turn around and tries to build a relationship on maneuvering to destroy the sanctions without really moving itself away from its policy of a nuclear Iran. 
            Finally, the regime needs to address other issues besides human rights and support for terrorists groups like Hezbollah and the inhumane regime in Syria. From my personal perspective, Iran has never apologized for the takeover of the U.S. Embassy on November 4, 1979 and the 444 days of agony that our diplomats and military suffered and are still suffering today. Moreover, while all of this is going on, Iranians will gather at the former Embassy in Teheran to burn American flags and scream "Death to America" in five days from now.
William Daugherty, former third secretary (CIA case officer)
            As you may have already heard, Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing; Rouhani is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. So before proceeding beyond the general discussion stage, there must be concrete evidence that [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei is fully behind not just discussions with the United States, but also achieving a permanent change in the relationship. That change must be composed of complete U.S. satisfaction with any agreements on the nuclear issues.  Moreover, there must be some substantial indication that Khamenei is capable of controlling the hardline factions that will oppose, perhaps violently, any agreement with the United States. 
      Without the two desiderata stated above, the United States should not proceed beyond a continuation of the dialogue, until and unless the Iranians come to an agreement that satisfies these two demands. 
      A significant component of the ability to manage the hardline opposition is evidence that the Revolutionary Guards leadership and higher echelons are either in accord with the agreement or that Khamenei is able to manage any dissent (or violence).  The Revolutionary Guards leadership have a huge personal stake in continuing the embargo because that is one source (through controlling and running the smuggling networks) of their not insignificant income. 
            In sum, I am fully supportive of a dialogue with the Iranians and reaching an agreement, provided that it includes the above. As an intelligence professional, I understand fully how difficult it is to obtain concrete proof of the willingness and ability of an opponent to change after nearly 34 years of blatant hostility, especially when that hostility includes terrorist actions that have killed nearly 300 Americans and wounded over 1,000 more (e.g., the Marine barracks in Beirut, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, at least one aircraft hijacking in December of 1984).  Not to mention the taking of hostages (both in the embassy and in Beirut, through Hezbollah), the desecration of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and other acts of terrorism against our allies (e.g., Israel, through Iran’s support for Hamas and two deadly bombings in Argentina). But absent such proof, there should be no agreement. 
Cmdr. Donald Sharer, former naval air attaché
            I feel the U.S. government has let us down. If the United States is so intent on relations with Iran, we don't have a chance of recouping 14.5 months of our lives, let alone the pain, agony and not knowing when we would die at their hands. We have been forsaken by our country for 30 years on seeking retribution and once again we will be shut out.  Thirty-two years I served, just to be kicked aside for a blatant act of terror. People in Washington D.C. should have been there.
Col. Charles Scott, former naval air attaché
      In my view, Iran's current attempt at “peaches and cream” diplomacy is a clever ploy to stall, as long as possible, while continuing to develop a nuclear weapon and its delivery means. The goal of Islamic fundamentalism is to eventually dominate the world. Let's not be suckered in by this ploy. Forget the sweet talk and demand specific action.
Lt. Col. David Roeder, former deputy Air Force attaché
            One of the most memorable quotes from newly-elected President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address was, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
             Likewise, it was President Reagan who often repeated the old Russian proverb “doveryai no proveryia” (trust, but verify) especially when meeting with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
            One cannot help but wonder if those historic principals may have been on the mind of Kennedy's fellow Bay Stater John Kerry on October 3rd during a press conference in Japan.
            Responding to a reporter's question about the potential thawing of relations between the U.S. and Iran, our new Secretary of State opined that it would be “diplomatic malpractice of the worst order” not to see if Iran was truly willing to recognize almost universal international demands concerning its nuclear ambitions.
            Almost immediately, the Obama Administration asked Congress to delay its scheduled consideration of a new and reportedly tougher Iran sanctions bill.
            All this, of course, stems from the recent meeting of the U.N. General Assembly where we saw several newsworthy developments: the start of newly-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's so-called “charm offensive,” the closed door meeting between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad [Javad] Zarif, President Obama's unprecedented “first blink” phone call to Rouhani after more than 30 years of public silence between the two nations and, finally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's impassioned warning that Rouhani is but a “wolf in sheep's clothing” and that Iran has consistently proven that it can never be trusted.
            While most of the main stream media has quickly endorsed the view that President Rouhani is a genuine “moderate” with whom meaningful negotiations might be possible, in my opinion that view appears to be more wishful thinking than cold, hard reality. It is also interesting to note that, as Middle East scholar Hussein Banai explained, “In an Iranian context, a 'moderate' means you don't pick fights with the ruling class and at the same time, you pander to popular grievances people have about that ruling class.” Stepping back and looking at Rouhani's history is, therefore, a critically important and revealing exercise.
            First of all, and perhaps most importantly, we must never forget that to call Iran an Islamic republic is, at best, a misnomer. Iran is first, last and always a militant Shiite theocracy and the 64-year-old Rouhani, unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a long-term, well-connected cleric within that environment.
            Second, under the Iranian political system, the elected President simply is not the power behind the former Shah's Peacock Throne and wouldn't have even been allowed to seek office unless he enjoyed the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Guardian Council.
            Thirdly, Rouhani has long served as the chief Iranian negotiator during numerous multinational and United Nations efforts to determine if the true Iranian dream is to become the Middle East's predominant nuclear power. While those negotiations have always purchased additional time for Iran's weapons research, they have otherwise gone absolutely nowhere!
            Whether or not Secretary Kerry's noble approach holds any promise for improved relations between Iran and the West, current U.S. foreign policy within the region - fragmented as it certainly is – places very little credibility on our side of the negotiating scale.
America is clearly in the process of reducing its presence in the Middle East as Kerry's and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagle's visit to Japan and President Obama's planned, but now canceled, tour of the Asian Basin clearly indicates.
            Writing in the September issue of Commentary magazine, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elliott Abrams wrote that “the administration's so-called 'pivot to Asia' is the supposed refocusing of American foreign policy away from the Middle East and onto the Far East.”
            Think about the potential consequences of that pull-out to our regional, but increasingly wary, allies. Even President Obama's own ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, recently commented “If it's a tactic, it is mindless; if it is a strategy, it is criminal.”
            Shortly before taking office in August, Rouhani was a principal participant in large anti-Israeli rally during which he described America's only democratic ally in the region as a “wound on the body of the Islamic world.” And finally, during his inaugural speech, Rouhani fully endorsed the Supreme Leader's ironclad position on Iran becoming a nuclear power.
            While he may be the epitome of an Iranian defined “moderate,” nothing has or is likely to change. Under most western definitions of the word, a “moderate”, Rouhani is not—not even close!
Sgt. Rodney (Rocky) Sickmann, former Marine guard
            These negotiations are frustrating. Frustrating that our government isn’t willing to hold Iran accountable for the inhumane, brutal and mental torture they put 52 Americans through for 444 days yet, in most recent negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program, they chose to negotiate even when Iran still offers no concessions. Iran has always depended on intimidation and terrorism to stay in power and during our 444 days in captivity Iran learned one thing: Terrorism on the United States works
      It is time. It’s time to start from the beginning on November 4, 1979 – the day we were taken hostage. That day dramatically reshaped the politics of the US and Iran and it’s time for Iran to be held accountable for their illegal actions and pay reparations consistent with the historical amounts established by the court.
            How can our nation ever make progress unless the US addresses the core issues within this terrorist country? We need to work within certain parameters to ensure the negotiations not only further the interests of the US, but also protect all Americans and our future generations. We need to demonstrate that the US will not tolerate the terrorism Iran began on November 4, 1979. We must hold them accountable and only then do then do I agree that negotiations towards a nuclear program solution would be successful.
*Titles and rank reflect positions during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis.

Photo credit: William Daugherty via Armstrong Atlantic State University


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Iran Sanctions: Which Way Out?

            With the deadline for a nuclear deal looming in less than a month, Iran and the world’s six major powers face tough decisions. The following article, originally published in August 2013, addresses sanctions relief, one of the key issues in negotiations.

Ali Vaez

      The United States has imposed several layers of sanctions against Iran—for widely diverse reasons—dating back to the 1979 revolution. Tehran now wants relief from sanctions as part of any diplomatic deal on its controversial nuclear program. But lifting sanctions is often harder than imposing them—and varies depending on the issues, origins and methods imposed.
What types of sanctions has the United States imposed on Iran?
            Sanctions have been the policy tool of choice used by six presidents to deal with Iran. Since the 1979 revolution, the White House has issued 16 executive orders and Congress has passed nine acts imposing punitive sanctions on Iran in four waves.
            The first wave of U.S. sanctions, from 1979 to 1995, was a response to the U.S. embassy hostage crisis and Tehran’s support for extremist groups in the region.
            The second wave of sanctions, from 1995 to 2006, sought to weaken the Islamic Republic by targeting its oil and gas industry and denying it access to nuclear and missile technology. U.S. sanctions also targeted any company in a third country that invested in Iran’s energy sector, a move to compel allies to adopt a unified stance against Iran.
            The third wave, from 2006 to 2010, was imposed chiefly due to concerns over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but also included punitive measures for Iran’s human rights violations. Sanctions targeted almost every major chokepoint in Iran’s economy.
            The latest wave of sanctions since 2010 includes some of the toughest restrictions the United States has ever imposed on any country. They target Iran’s Central Bank and its ability to repatriate oil revenues  as well as many transportation, insurance, manufacturing and financial sectors.
            The first two waves of sanctions were unilaterally imposed by Washington. But the last two included similar measures imposed by U.S. allies and the United Nations, generating almost a global sanctions regime against Iran.
What would the United States need to do to lift sanctions?
      The standard for lifting U.S. sanctions is high. The president could nullify the White House executive orders imposed over the years. But nearly 60 percent of these sanctions have also been codified into law by Congress, which puts amending or repealing sanctions beyond the president’s control. Congress would also have to take action.
      For example, executive orders banning U.S. trade with Iran –under Executive Orders 12957, 12959 and 13059-- were subsequently written into the law when Congress passed the Iran Freedom Support Act in 2006 and the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act in 2010. Similarly, sanctions on Iran’s energy and petrochemical sector under Executive Order 13590 and human rights violators under Executive Order 13606 were subsequently codified into law through the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.
            The president could still exercise his waiver authority to exempt countries, entities and individuals from sanctions. He could also mandate greater flexibility in determining violations and enforcing penalties. The Clinton and Bush administrations opted for the latter option and never determined any country in violation of U.S. sanctions, which could have damaged relations with US allies.
What steps would Iran have to take to get sanctions lifted?
            Sanctions have become so extensive and so intricately woven that the United States will probably have a hard time offering significant or tangible relief unless Iran reverses major aspects of its domestic and foreign policies. The same applies to the 34-year-old state of emergency on Iran, which gives the president broad powers to unilaterally impose sanctions or other punitive measures.
            The 16 executive orders and nine Congressional acts are also not tied only to the nuclear issue. More than 80 percent of the sanctions are linked to Iran’s broader foreign or domestic policies. As such, not all have the same standards to be lifted.
            On Terrorism: Restoration of U.S.-Iran trade relations would first require that the United States remove Iran from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which Tehran has been on since the list was created in the 1980s. And the requirements are stiff. Tehran would notably have to cut ties to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that Tehran helped create in the early 1980s, as well as several other movements that use violence.
            Tehran would also have to provide assurances – and proof -- that it had abandoned international terrorism and support for extremist groups. The White House would then have to certify to Congress that Iran had not provided support for terrorism for at least six months, timing that could delay implementation of any diplomatic deal. Congress could block Iran’s removal from the list through a joint resolution , which would in turn be subject to a presidential veto. Congress could override the veto with a two-thirds majority, however.
            On Human Rights: Ending sanctions imposed for human rights violations under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act would require Iran to take several steps, including:
                 •  unconditional release of all political prisoners;
                 •  conducting a transparent investigation into the killings, arrests and abuse
                      of protestors after the disputed 2009 presidential election;
                 •  ending human rights violations;
                 •  and establishing an independent judiciary.
            On the Nuclear Program: The United States has no clear criteria for removing these sanctions. The basic demands by the world’s six major powers include:
                 •  halting all enrichment of uranium up to 20 percent,
                 •  neutralizing the current stockpile of uranium enrich to 20 percent
                 •  mothballing the new enrichment facility build into the mountains of Fordo.
                 •  accepting maximum level of transparency and intrusive inspections,
                 •  resolving all the outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy
                 •  and abiding by the six UN Security Council resolutions demanding
                      suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
            But most US sanctions are multipurpose. For example, termination of measures under the Iran Sanctions Act , which is at the core of U.S. sanctions, requires:
                 •  that the president to certify that Iran has ceased efforts to design, develop or
                      acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as ballistic missile
                 •  that Tehran has been removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of
                 •  and that Iran poses no significant threat to U.S. national security interests or
                      its allies.
What obstacles would the White House face in lifting sanctions from Congress, political lobbies, public opinion or other players?
      Lifting U.S. sanctions could be complicated by politics, particularly discordant views between the White House and Congress. Some lawmakers seem less interested in a diplomatic resolution--or less convinced of its feasibility. They are not swayed by the views of U.S. allies. Others would actually prefer to impose additional sanctions.
      So in Washington’s highly politicized climate, Congress may not easily defer to the president on sanctions relief, especially given powerful lobbies on the issue.
      Easing sanctions may also not automatically alter or increase international trade with Iran, given economic realities and business wariness. Sanctions have significantly altered basic trade and consumption patterns that may be hard to change—and may limit or delay any benefits to Iran. Some companies and countries that have shifted away from Iran over the years are unlikely to rush back without solid assurances that sanctions relief is not just temporary. Uncertainty would make them hesitant to re-engage.
            For example, one possibility in a diplomatic deal would be short-term suspension of sanctions—as an interim step—so the two sides have time for building confidence between each other and for winning political support at home for concessions. One of Iran’s top priorities is to get sanctions relief so that it can export more oil, which accounts for up to 80 percent of its export earnings. But the international oil industry may hesitate to reengage during a short-term suspension. Iranian crude also has specific characteristics that would require reconfiguration of refineries, an expensive step without prospects of an enduring deal.
            All in all, the nature of multi-purpose and multi-layered sanctions has confused their strategic purpose, while constraining Washington’s ability to respond to positive actions with requisite nimbleness. Over time, as they has simultaneously grown and ossified, the sanctions have become a less-than-optimal tool to advance negotiations in a diplomatic process where a scalpel, rather than a chainsaw, is required.
Would the United States remove the diverse sanctions in the same way?
            The timing and means of removing sanctions will almost certainly vary.
                 •  Politically sensitive sanctions--notably for Iran’s human rights violations and
                      support of militant groups--are unlikely to be on the menu in the near future.
                 •  Restrictions on oil and financial transactions are the crown jewels of the
                      sanctions regime in the eyes of Western policy makers. Neither Washington
                      nor its European Union partners are likely to suspend them without significant
                      Iranian guarantees about Tehran’s nuclear concessions.
            But the reality of suspending sanctions is also not easy either. For instance, both the president and Congress would have to act to allowing Iran to reach its previous petroleum exports , including:
                 •  revoking Executive Order 13622,
                 •  using national security waiver to permit other states to buy more oil from Iran
                       under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012,
                 •  permitting financial transactions with Iran’s energy, shipping and port sectors,
                      which are all declared “entities of proliferation concern” under the Iran
                      Freedom and Counter-proliferation Act of 2012,
                 •  waiving sanctions under TRA and IFCA to allow the provision of insurance and
                      reinsurance for shipping Iranian oil,
                 •  and waiving the ban on repatriating Iran’s oil revenue under TRA. Waivers need
                      to be renewed every 120 or 180 days.
            Almost all Iranian major energy and shipping companies are also blacklisted by the Treasury Department, either as entities supporting terrorism (under Executive Order  13224) or for being involved in proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction under Executive Order  13382. Foreign companies will be more than reluctant to work with these companies unless they are delisted.
            The only remaining option would be to suspend other sanctions that tangibly affect Iran’s economic well-being. The United States could allow Iran to import or export specific goods that produce revenue or help Iran’s manufacturing sector.  The P5+1 world major powers – the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia--chose a similar route in the February and April 2013 negotiations with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Their offer to relax sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical sales and gold trade was meaningful, but it was not proportionate to the concessions expected from Tehran.  
            Given the complexities, another U.S. option might be to focus on European sanctions, which are more elastic and lack clear criteria for termination. Their repeal requires a unanimous decision by all 28 member states of the European Union. Building consensus, however, is not always a straight forward enterprise in Europe. Also, there is now so much overlap between the U.S. and EU sanctions that a unilateral EU removal of sanctions might have little impact on the ground. One-sided EU concessions also risk being seen by Tehran as a tactical ploy to maintain U.S. sanctions in place indefinitely.
            Diplomatic talks are expected to resume in the fall. The challenge for world’s six major powers will be devising a package of incentives, including some degree of sanctions relief that is achievable both politically and legally while also genuinely addressing Iranian concerns. The challenge for the new Iranian government will be to respond in kind.
Ali Vaez is the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Pete Souza photo of Barack Obama

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


Iran Nuclear Talks: The Final Month

            Iran and the world’s six major powers have less than a month to reach a deal that will ensure Tehran’s controversial nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. Both sides are now intensifying their efforts to meet the November 24 deadline for an agreement. Leaders on both sides have noted that there has been progress on key issues and remain hopeful that a deal can be reached before the deadline.
Both Iranian and U.S. officials, however, have claimed that each other’s governments will be at fault if a deal is not reached. “If [a deal] does not happen, the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman warned on October 23. “It is not clear if negotiations will reach a conclusion within the specified time frame” unless the other side gives up its “illogical excessive demands,” Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi said on October 27 (click here for the latest remarks by U.S. and Iranian officials).
The following is a schedule for the next three weeks of diplomacy and a rundown of the three possible outcomes of the November talks — a deal, no deal or an extension.

November 7: E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is scheduled to meet with political directors from the P5+1 countries — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
November 9 and 10: Secretary of State John Kerry and Ashton are slated to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Muscat, Oman.
November 11: Political directors from the P5+1 and Iran are scheduled to meet in Muscat, Oman.
November 18: The final round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 is set to commence in Vienna. Kerry has suggested that he and Zarif will both be in Vienna for the last few days of negotiations.
A Deal:
            The temporary Joint Plan of Action states that goal of the negotiations “is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.” The following are excerpts from an article by Joe Cirincione on six issues pivotal to an accord. 
1. Limiting Uranium Enrichment
      Iran’s ability to enrich uranium is at the heart of the international controversy. The process can fuel both peaceful nuclear energy and the world’s deadliest weapon. Since 2002, Iran’s has gradually built an independent capability to enrich uranium, which it claims is only for medical research and to fuel an energy program. But the outside world has long been suspicious of Tehran’s intentions because its program exceeds its current needs. 
A deal may generally have to include:
      •reducing the number of Iran’s centrifuges,
      •limiting uranium enrichment to no more than five percent.  
      •capping centrifuge capabilities at current levels.
2. Preventing a Plutonium Path
      Iran’s heavy water reactor in Arak, which is unfinished, is another big issue. Construction of this small research reactor began in the 1990s; the stated goal was producing medical isotopes and up to 40 megawatts of thermal power for civilian use. But the “reactor design appears much better suited for producing bomb-grade plutonium than for civilian uses,” warned former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Los Alamos Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker.
            In early February, Iranian officials announced they would be willing to modify the design plans of the reactor to allay Western concerns, although they provided no details. 
3. Verification
      The temporary Joint Plan allows more extensive and intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. U.N. inspectors now have daily access to Iran’s primary enrichment facilities at the Natanz and Fordow plants, the Arak heavy water reactor, and the centrifuge assembly facilities. Inspectors are now also allowed into Iran’s uranium mines.
           A final deal will have to further expand inspections to new sites. The most sensitive issue may be access to sites suspected of holding evidence of Iran’s past efforts to build an atomic bomb. The IAEA suspects, for example, that Iran tested explosive components needed for a nuclear bomb at Parchin military base.
4. Clarifying the Past  
The issue is not just Iran’s current program and future potential. Several troubling questions from the past must also be answered. The temporary deal created a Joint Commission to work with the IAEA on past issues, including suspected research on nuclear weapon technologies. Iran denies that it ever worked on nuclear weapons, but the circumstantial evidence about past Iranian experiments is quite strong.
Among the issues:
•research on polonium-210, which can be used as a neutron trigger for a nuclear bomb,
•research on a missile re-entry vehicle, which could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon, and
•suspected high-explosives testing, which could be used to compress a bomb core to critical mass.
      “Iran needs to clarify issues related to possible military dimension and implement the additional protocol [to prove its nuclear program is entirely peaceful],” the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Yukiya Amano, said on October 31 at the Brookings Institution.
5. Sanctions Relief
           Iran’s primary goal is to get access to some $100 billion in funds frozen in foreign banks and to end the many sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. Since the toughest U.S. sanctions were imposed in mid-2012, Iran’s currency and oil exports have both plummeted by some 60 percent.
           The temporary Joint Plan of Action says a final agreement will “comprehensively lift UN Security Council, multilateral and national nuclear-related sanctions…on a schedule to be agreed upon.” (It does not, however, address sanctions imposed on other issues, such as support for extremist groups or human rights abuses.) The United States and the Europeans may want to keep some sanctions in place until they are assured that Iran is meeting new obligations.
6. The Long and Winding Road
            The final but critical issue is timing: How long is a long-term deal? It will clearly require years to prove Iran is fully compliant. But estimates vary widely from five to 20 years. Another alternative is a series of shorter agreements that build incrementally on one another.
Click here for Joe Cirincione's full article on these six issues.
No Deal:
            Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman has warned that “escalation will be the name of the game, on all sides,” if the talks collapse. Tehran’s resumption of work on the most sensitive aspects of its nuclear program could raise prospects for military action. President Barack Obama has warned that he would seek to impose new sanctions on Iran in an agreement cannot be brokered. But enforcing sanctions could become much more difficult if European and Asian countries, especially Russia and China, blame the failure of talks on U.S. unwillingness to compromise on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity.
            The previous extension pushed the due date for a deal back by four months to November 24. Neither side wants the talks to last any longer than necessary. But they may again opt for more time to negotiate if the alternative is a total collapse of the talks. Even if a general consensus is, however, reached on the major issues, experts may need additional time to hammer out the technical details. An extension could again allow for additional repatriation of frozen funds outside of Iran, perhaps in return for Iran taking more steps to roll back its nuclear program.

Photo credits: NuclearEnergy.ir, Amano and Zarif by Mueller / MSC [CC-BY-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Chief on Iran

             International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano called on Iran to take concrete measures to resolve outstanding issues with the U.N. nuclear watchdog during an address at the Brookings Institution on October 31. He discussed the IAEA’s role in the verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program and noted that Tehran has been hesitant to disclose the potential military aspects of its program. Amano stated that “Iran’s nuclear material under IAEA safeguards is in peaceful purposes, but we cannot provide assurance that all material in Iran is in peaceful purposes.” But in a comment to Al-Monitor after the event, Amano also said that Iran's faltering cooperation “should not be an impediment” to reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal. The following is a video from the event with excerpts from Amano’s remarks.


            The main safeguards issues on the agenda in recent years have concerned Iran, North Korea, and Syria. These are very different cases. What they have in common is the fact that these countries have failed to fully implement their safeguard agreements with IAEA and other relevant obligations. This makes it very difficult for us to do our job effectively. As far as the IAEA is concerned the Iran story began in August 2002 when media reported that Iran was building a large underground nuclear related facility in Natanz which had been declared to the Agency previously. Iran subsequently acknowledged its existence and put it under IAEA safeguards. Let me say at this point that it is vitally important that the IAEA and this Director General should be impartial. That means applying the same principles to all country. For me the fundamental principle is that all of the safeguards agreements which we conclude with our member states should be implemented fully, so should other relevant obligations such as resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
            When I became Director General in late 2009 I applied this principle to Iran. I felt that spelling out the issues with clarity was an essential first step towards resolving the problem. My quarterly reports from February 2010 almost stated that nuclear material declared by Iran was not being diverted from peaceful purposes. But I also stated that Iran was not providing sufficient cooperation to enable the Agency to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran was in peaceful activities. I urged Iran to implement the additional protocol and clarify the issues related to what had become known as possibly military dimensions to its nuclear program. The next important question was how to approach these possible military dimensions. Our technical experts has spent years painstakingly and objectively analyzing a huge quantify of information about theft program from the wide variety of independent sources including form the Agency's own efforts and from interim information provided by Iran itself, as well as from a number of member states. After carefully reviewing the issue I decided to present the detailed report in November 2011. In that report I stated that the information assembled by the Agency was overall credible. It was consistent in terms of technical content, individuals, and organizations involved and timeframes. The information indicated that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicated that prior to the end of 2003 these activities took place under structured program in that some activities might still be ongoing.
            I would like to be very clear on this issue because there have been some misunderstandings. The IAEA has not said that Iran has nuclear weapons; we have not drawn conclusions from the information at our disposal about possible military dimension to the Iranian nuclear program. What we have said is that Iran has to clarify these issues because there is broadly credible information indicating that it engaged in activities of this nature. In other words Iran has a case to answer. In response to my report both the IAEA Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council adopted resolutions asking Iran to cooperate and to clarify their issues relating to possible military dimension in order to restore international confidence in an exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. On the basis of these resolutions the Agency had talks with Iran over the next two years; however, virtually no progress was made. At times we were going around in circles.
            Last year we started to see some movement. In November I when to Tehran and signed the framework for cooperation with Iran under which it agreed to resolve all the outstanding issues, past and present. We agreed to take a step-by-step approach. Initially Iran implemented the practical measures which is agreed with the Agency under the framework for cooperation fairly well. However, since the summer of 2014 progress on implementing agreed measures has been limited. Two important practical measures which should have been implemented two months ago have still not been implemented. The Agency invited Iran to propose new practical measures for the next step of our cooperation, but it has not done so. Clarifying issues to possible military dimensions is not an endless process. It could be done within a reasonable timeline, but how far and how fast we can go depends very much on Iran's cooperation. I have made clear that Agency will provide an assessment to our Board of Governors after it obtains a good understanding of the whole picture concerning issues with possibly military dimensions. It is then up to the Board to decide the future course of action.
            As you may know there are two tracks of negotiation on the Iran nuclear issue. One is the IAEA Iran track, the other is the other so-called P5+1 and Iran track in which the IAEA is also involved. These six countries, China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and United States, agreed on a joint plan of action with Iran in November 2013. The aim was to achieve a mutually agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. All seven countries asked the IAEA to undertake monitoring and the verification of voluntary measure to be implemented by Iran which we are doing. The P5+1 negotiations with Iran are continuing. I should mention that Iran is still not implementing their additional protocol. This is contrary to the resolution of the Board of Governors and under Security Council. Implementation of additional protocol by Iran is essential for the Agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the country. The current status of affairs is that Iran's nuclear material under IAEA safeguards is in peaceful purposes, but we cannot provide assurance that all material in Iran is in peaceful purposes. In order to provide that assurance Iran has to clarify the issues relating to possible military dimensions and implement the additional protocol.
            What is needed now is concrete actions on the part of Iran to resolve all outstanding issues. I remain committed to working with Iran to restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. But I repeat, this is not a never ending process; it is very important that Iran fully implement the framework for cooperation sooner than later. The IAEA can make a unique contribution to resolving the Iran nuclear issue, but we cannot do this on our own. The sustained influence of the international community are needed, as is Iran's full cooperation to resolve all outstanding issues.
Click here to access the full transcript
Tags: IAEA, Nuclear

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