United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Easing U.S. Sanctions on Iran

            The United States has several ways to suspend or terminate sanction on Iran in the event a final nuclear deal is reached, according to a new Atlantic Council report. But the easiest way for the Obama administration to ease sanctions would be to issue waivers, according to Kenneth Katzman. The administration does not have the power to commit to an outright lifting of sanctions without the involvement of Congress. The following are excerpts from the brief with a link to the full text.

Termination Authority
            The president can terminate some Iran sanctions provisions under existing authority, without specific additional action from the Congress. US sanctions come into force either by congressional enactment of law or by the issuing of an executive order by the president. Sanctions imposed on Iran by executive order were issued under the authority provided to the president by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), a law that gives the president broad authority to restrict transactions with countries for which a “state of emergency” has been declared. President Bill Clinton declared a “state of emergency” with respect to Iran in March 1995, and that declaration has been renewed each year since.
Executive Orders Codified by Law–Not Revocable by Executive Branch Alone
            When an executive order has been codified into law, the administration cannot on its own authority revoke the order and lift the applicable sanctions.
Terminating Application of Sanctions Laws by Executive Action
            Not all US sanctions on Iran that have been imposed by law require congressional action to achieve termination. There are a number of significant sanctions against
Iran, imposed by law, which could be terminated by presidential action alone, were there an administration decision to do so. This is the case for those laws that contain provisions that spell out specific conditions that, if the president determines are met, would terminate application to Iran.
Termination Provisions of the Iran Sanctions Act
            The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA). ISA was enacted in 1996 primarily to deter major foreign energy companies from subscribing to oil and gas field development projects in Iran. Since then, it has been amended numerous times, expanding its authorities to prohibitions on supplying to Iran gasoline and shipping services; supplying Iran energy sector equipment and services, including to produce petrochemicals; supplying to Iran WMD-related technology; participating in a joint venture with Iran to mine or produce uranium; and purchasing or issuing Iranian government bonds. The executive branch does have implementing latitude in that ISA assigns to the administration the authority to investigate and determine violations, within a set time frame.
Removal from the Terrorism List
           As noted above, one of the termination criteria in ISA is that Iran be removed from the “terrorism list,” thereby linking terrorism-related sanctions to the overall issue of sanctions relief as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal. Designation as a state sponsor of terrorism triggers a wide range of sanctions against Iran.
Termination through Expiration or “Sunset”
            Some sanctions contain provisions specifying when their provisions might terminate—a so-called “sunset.” Section 13 of the Iran Sanctions Act states that “This Act shall cease to be effective on December 31, 2016.” The original sunset of ISA was to take place by the end of August 2001—five years after the original enactment of the law. Congress has on two occasions extended the sunset of ISA, most recently from its previous sunset date of December 31, 2011.
Authority to Suspend or Avoid Application of Sanctions
            The president has the authority to choose how to apply or not apply sanctions through the power to make designations of sanctionability. This is considered a “suspension” provision, not a “termination” provision because using this authority does not change the underlying sanctions provision itself, whether imposed by executive order or by law.
            In light of the debate over a nuclear agreement with Iran, the easiest way for the administration to implement sanctions easing negotiated in a final nuclear deal is to exercise its waiver authority. Iran’s main demand is that sanctions no longer apply after a nuclear deal is reached—it is less concerned with the process by which the sanctions are no longer applied. Waiver authority is available for those sanctions that Iran is demanding be eased as part of a nuclear deal, particularly those that have restricted its ability to export oil, to repatriate hard currency held abroad, and to rejoin the international banking system. The expiration of the Iran Sanctions Act at the end of 2016 would also satisfy many of Iran’s demands for sanctions easing. Iran is not demanding, as a condition of a final agreement, that any of the US sanctions laws actually be repealed or amended legislatively. Iran might make such demands over the longer term in order to provide its trading partners with greater certainty.
Click here for the full text. 

Report: Easing E.U. Sanctions on Iran

            The European Union would likely be able to lift sanctions on Iran more easily than the United States, according to a new Atlantic Council report. The European Council, made up of the heads of E.U. member state governments, can impose and remove sanctions without involving the European Parliament. The Obama administration, however, does not have the same authority. Congressional action would be necessary to lift many sanctions, which could make U.S.-E.U synchronization difficult if a final nuclear deal is reached. The following are excerpts from the report by Cornelius Adebahr.

How the EU and the United States Could Lift Sanctions
           After two waves of sanctions over seven years, the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013 ushered in a period of renewed and serious negotiations. This led to the first round of sanctions suspension following the interim agreement negotiated
in Geneva in November 2013.
          With a view to a potential comprehensive deal in the offing for the summer of 2014, two basic considerations need to be made at this point: First, who should lift which sanctions and, second, in what sequence?
            It is crucial that any sanctions relief be synchronised between the EU and the United States. The autonomous sanctions imposed in 2012 and early 2013 mutually reinforced each other: the European oil import ban was impactful because, at the same time, the United States pressured Iran’s non-Western clients such as India, South Korea, Japan, and China to reduce their own crude purchases. Similarly, the American ban on indirect or U-turn dollar transactions became much more powerful once the EU had shut off Iranian banks from the international financial system with its SWIFT sanctions.
            On the second consideration, there could be two different approaches to the sequencing of sanctions lifting. The first is anti-chronological, going backward in time to lift the most recent sanctions first. Like deconstructing a house made of bricks, this should allow for a gradual reversal of the punitive measures in place.
            The second approach to sanctions lifting revolves around the broad areas of sanctions listed below. In this sense, the strategy could be to start undoing sanctions in certain areas—e.g., restrictions on trade and transport as well as asset freezes—while retaining them in others—e.g., financial and nuclear-related.
Sanctions Lifting as Part of Final Deal
            Given that the ultimate plan on how to lift which sanctions is very much part of the ongoing negotiations, a few general assumptions can be made.
            First, it is the “autonomous” sanctions by the EU and the United States which Iran would like to see lifted sooner rather than later. Then, for symbolic reasons, the UN
Security Council could reverse some of its sanctions in order to recognize the signing of the comprehensive deal. For a full lifting of those multilateral sanctions, however, all open issues between Iran and the IAEA need to be resolved and full confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program needs to be restored.
            Building on the JPA, the focus for an easing of sanctions
is likely to be on four areas:
• allowing for the import of Iranian oil and gas, thus providing Iran with fresh—and much needed—income, and for export to Iran of respective technology as well as investments in those sectors;
• unfreezing an estimated $100 billion in Iranian oil revenues held abroad;
• easing the restrictions on financial transactions and insurance and lifting sanctions broadly in the area of the civilian economy, e.g., trade in precious metals, bank notes, bond trades and loans, the automotive and shipbuilding industry, as well as specialized training; and
• delisting a number of persons and entities from travel ban lists.
            The need for the EU and the United States to move in tandem when lifting or suspending their sanctions points to the difficulties posed by a reluctant Congress, which has been more inclined to pass additional sanctions than to revoke existing ones. To what extent the administration can get around this by using executive powers such as the presidential waiver, is part of the ongoing debate in Washington…
            The described possible lifting of a number of measures notwithstanding, some elements of the EU sanctions architecture probably will also remain in place for quite some time, until or closer to the expiration date of the comprehensive agreement, including:
• sanctions on sales to Iran of any technology that could be used in Iran’s nuclear, other WMD, or conventional weapons programs;
• inspections of cargo and restrictions on airport access;
• certain financial restrictions;
• the arms embargo; and
• restrictions on businesses relating to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Click here for the full text. 

US Briefs on June Vienna Talks

      On June 16, the U.S. State Department provided a briefing on the upcoming nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. A senior Obama administration official said that both sides should be focused on the July 20 deadline for a deal rather than preparing for a six-month extension of the interim agreement. “We can get his done,” said the official. “There are still significant gaps between the P5+1 and Iranian positions, and we don’t have illusions about how hard it will be to close those gaps, though we do see ways to do so.” The following are excerpts from the briefing.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everybody, or good morning or good evening depending upon wherever you are. Thank you for calling into this backgrounder today. We thought it would just be easier to do this by phone since you all are in many different places, and again, my apologies for the change in the schedule for our session last week. The schedule just overcame my week since it ended up being a lot shorter than I might have thought it would have been at one point.
As you all know, there are many pressing things going on in the world and our schedules are constantly changing as a result. I appreciate everybody’s flexibility as we’ve shifted this around, but I wanted to do this today as we kick off this fifth session at the political director level in Vienna. I say that because although we’ve had these sessions at the political director level, our work has been constant throughout these five months. Our experts meet frequently in person, talk or email with each other every single day. And we all are working every single day to try to make progress in this very complex, very difficult negotiation.
The negotiations have already intensified, as we said that they would, and they will continue to do so in the days and weeks leading up to July 20th. I cannot imagine that between now and July 20th we will not in some form or fashion be meeting every single day in one way or another. Part of that intensification of our efforts was the bilateral meeting we had with Iran last week in Geneva. I would note that virtually all the members of the P5+1, E3+3, whatever you want to call them, have had fairly lengthy bilaterals. Some (inaudible) have traveled to Tehran for meetings. Others have had Iranians visit their capitals. Obviously, the U.S. is in a somewhat different situation. And so we thought that the best way for us to have an extended bilateral, as all of our colleagues have done, was to do so in Geneva.
We, as you know, were joined by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and by the Vice President’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. They joined for two reasons, one – well, actually three. One, they’re incredibly experienced and knowledgeable negotiators. Two, there may have been some questions by Iranian interlocutors about the previous bilateral discussions that needed some clarification. Actually, there wasn’t a lot of discussion of that at the end, but that was one of the reasons that we had the meeting. And third, we wanted to have a very detailed discussion of all the issues on the table and for Iran to understand very clearly the U.S. position on them.
We did invite Helga Schmid, Cathy Ashton’s deputy, to join us because we believe in transparency. The last round as we came up to the Joint Plan of Action we did one way. This time for the comprehensive agreement we’re proceeding in a different manner, and that transparency is quite critical.
I also note that you should expect to see Deputy Secretary Burns and Jake Sullivan joining these negotiations, as is appropriate, because we want to do whatever we can do to ensure that we get to a successful conclusion. As I think you all know, Deputy Secretary Burns is in fact here today on this opening day. We will be holding a trilateral this afternoon just to debrief Foreign Minister Zarif, who was not in Geneva, about our bilateral talks, and again, to answer any questions that may remain from the previous bilateral negotiating round that we had.
This week is, as we’ve said, a critical one for the comprehensive negotiations. I think everyone here feels a strong sense of determination to reach a good agreement. There are still significant gaps between the P5+1 and Iranian positions, and we don’t have illusions about how hard it will be to close those gaps, though we do see ways to do so. As you know, this is not a simple matter. Our negotiators and technical experts are working on a comprehensive package that best achieves our goals of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring that its program is entirely peaceful. That can’t, as I’ve said to you all before, be done by going down a checklist of independent items. It must be done by looking how all the various elements fit together into an overall package that fully meets our concerns.
We have no intention of accepting an agreement that does not address our and the international community’s longstanding concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. We’ve been clear and I will be clear again today that we would rather have no deal than a bad deal. But if Iran is – wants to head in a direction it says it does – indeed Iran has said it is not striving for a nuclear weapon, that it does not have, it will not seek to have a nuclear weapons program. So in our view, all of our requests should be quite easy for Iran to meet.
So we look forward to this week, hard work as it will be. Our focus is to make as much progress as possible, and of course to reach an agreement by the 20th of July. We’ve got a busy week ahead of us, and again, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to see if we can get to a comprehensive agreement. With that, I’ll be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: If it looks like you’re making progress as you hope to make but the July 20th deadline simply isn’t in reach because it’s a very complicated agreement that you’re working on, are you ready to do some kind of – do a delay for a few months or the full six months?
And then I also wanted to ask if there’s – what the situation is with talks between the U.S. and Iran on Iraq on that separate issue, whether that’s going to be discussed. The Iranians have offered to help work with the U.S. to stabilize the situation. We’ve heard that this will be the case and there’s been a bit of reporting on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are all focused on July 20th. I think everyone in the P5+1 agrees and I think Iran agrees that it is not in anyone’s interest to decide today that an extension is warranted. We can get this done. It is possible to get it done. We should be focused on getting it. I’ve said before that if we’re – it’s all within sight and we think we need a few more days, I don’t think anyone will care.
But I think that everyone needs to understand there is no automatic extension here; it has to be mutually agreed to. And there are no terms for an extension. So it could be that there is absolutely nothing to gain for Iran by asking for an extension should they want to do so. And we know that in the United States there are many strong feelings about keeping focused on getting this agreement done so that the international community can have confidence and assurance that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful. So right now we are entirely focused on July 20th.
On your second question regarding Iraq and whether there will be any discussion, this negotiation is focused solely on their – Iran’s nuclear program. If – as you all note, Deputy Secretary Burns is here today. He is here principally for the trilateral discussion which was previously scheduled. It may be that on the margins of the P5+1 but completely unconnected to it there may be some conversation.
QUESTION: Yes. Can you tell me if in the bilateral last week the two sides succeeded in closing any of the gaps? Did you make any progress there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Paul, I’m not going to speak to any specifics. What I can say is that we not only understood each other better after those two days, but I think we both can see places where we might be able to close those gaps. But this is, as you know, an agreement where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and no one is going to say what they could agree to until they actually have to. So there’s going to be a lot of dancing around for some time where we will get greater and greater clarity, and I think we will all begin and already have begun to see where an agreement could come together. But it will be at the point where all of those pieces are evident and want to see how they all come together to an agreement.
QUESTION: At what point in the process, how many weeks out would you say, do you begin to negotiate over whether or not the talks should be extended beyond July 20th? Would the negotiation happen parallel to the core efforts, or is that a discussion you really expect to have last minute, as you alluded to?
And then just second, on the role of Congress here, there was a letter sent by leaders in the House to the President this week on the parameters required for nuclear-related sanctions and the like, saying that there is no such thing as a nuclear-related sanction in U.S. law. So are you only talking about nuclear-related, or are you also looking at sanctions as relevant to international terrorism, unconventional weapons programs and the like?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So on extension, a very hypothetical question. We are not having discussions now about an extension because, as I said, we are entirely focused on getting an agreement by July 20th.
On the role of Congress, we always care about what Congress has to say. Congress has been a partner and a leader on dealing with our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and we welcome very much the continuation of that partnership. We have always been clear that the sanctions that we are focused on here are nuclear-related sanctions. We have been very clear with the Iranians that if we can reach an agreement here to suspend and ultimately terminate our sanctions that the sanctions that are in place because of human rights concerns, state-sponsored acts of terrorism, terrorism in general would remain on the books and remain being enforced.
QUESTION: So you mentioned in the opening that one of the reasons to hold the bilateral discussions last week was to perhaps clarify some things that were left unclarified in the last round. Can you help us out a little bit and at least give the boundaries of what those areas that needed to be clarified were?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s not so much things that weren’t clarified. We have only so much time for bilateral discussions when we are here in Vienna, so if we’re just here for two or three days, the last time we were here we had a three-hour bilateral. Now that may seem like a long bilateral, but when you have as many issues that are part of this agreement as we do and they are also technically detailed as they are, three hours is not a lot of time.
And so what we wanted was to have a very extended period of time, which we did in Geneva, to go over each one of those issues in tremendous detail, have the kind of back and forth that hopefully helps to illuminate whether, in fact, one might be able to get to an agreement.
QUESTION: Can I just pin you down a little bit on these Iraq conversations? It sounds like you’re saying that he is going to be talking to them. I mean, can you go so far – I mean, and we totally know that this is not related to the nuclear negotiations, that you want to keep that very separate, but it seems as if you were leaning into the idea that that was going to happen. Could you flesh that out a little bit more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m sure you will not find this a surprise at all – is that there may be discussion of that issue on the margins of our discussions, completely and separately apart from the P5+1 nuclear negotiations.
QUESTION: Could you just explain to us a little bit why you see its – it could be a good idea for the U.S. and Iran to have those talks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think all – I’ve said all I’m going to say on that subject – on those discussions.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. In the fall, Rouhani and Obama and other U.S. and Iranian officials said, “Let’s get the nuclear deal first and then we’ll see about what else might be possible between the U.S. and Iran.” Now if you and other U.S. officials and Iranian officials have publicly brainstormed about whether it would be worth talking, can you talk about if you think the Iraq issue could end up accelerating the Iran nuclear deal as the two countries seem partially aligned in wanting to stabilize Iraq? Or do you think it will have no effect on the negotiations?
And also just about – it seemed there was a mutual desire by both countries before to get the nuclear issue resolved before talking about regional and other matters, and now that seems to be in revision. Can you talk a little bit about the thinking on that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I actually don’t think – Laura, I don’t think there’s revisionism here at all. I think that the most fundamental issue for U.S. national security is removing international community concerns and U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. And I don’t think we have changed one bit from believing that until that is addressed and resolved, that there cannot be fundamental change in the relationship.
I would point out that in the past, the U.S. and Iran have discussed Afghanistan. You may remember there was I think it was a 6+2 group that met dealing with Afghanistan issues. So from time to time there have been times where it made sense to be part of a conversation. We obviously are at the UN General Assembly where there are discussions. So there is nothing that is 100 percent in one direction or another. But I think the fundamentals remain exactly as they are, which is that until we resolve the nuclear issue there cannot be any kind of fundamental change in this relationship.
And even with the nuclear agreement, I would hasten to add we continue to have grave concerns about acts of terrorism, destabilization in the region, human rights abuses, and how Iran conducts itself in the world. So no one should expect that all of the sudden overnight, even if we resolve the nuclear agreement, that everything will change. It will not. There is a long way to go. Will it have some impact? I certainly hope it does because it will mean that we have taken off of the table a very, very profound concern that the U.S. has and that the world has about Iran’s nuclear program.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, Laura. The next question’s from Michael Adler. Go ahead, Michael.
QUESTION: I know that you don’t talk about specifics, but is it not disquieting that Iran is talking about more and more centrifuges and philosophy that centrifuges cannot be touched at a time when you want to cut down on the number of centrifuges?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look Michael, I think you know very well that there’s a lot of public spin going on to try to position Iran in these negotiations. We’ve seen Minister Zarif’s op-ed in The Washington Post, a speech that – and press conference that has taken place in Iran, lots of articles, lots of quotations from Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi and others, and we obviously listen as you do to what is said in the press. But at the end of the day what matters is what happens in the negotiation room.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And that’s where we are focused.
QUESTION: I know you don’t really want to talk about this, but in terms of the discussions about Iraq with Iran, is there any concern that – possibility of needing to cooperate with Iran on an Iraq-related issue could have any impact on the negotiations, could give them some leverage perhaps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t see that at all. We’re very focused, and the P5+1 is its own process. You all expressed concerns some days ago that Ukraine was going to – the events in Ukraine were going to change the nature of this discussion. That has not occurred. (Inaudible) Sergei Ryabkov, has been entirely focused on the nuclear negotiation. It’s not to say that we aren’t all aware of the events in Ukraine and remain quite concerned about them. But indeed, everyone here is very focused on the responsibilities that all of our leaders have given us to see if we cannot reach an agreement to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful.
QUESTION: Most of the questions have already been asked, but I just want to go back to the outcome from the bilateral talks last week. I mean can you say that given – compared to where we were at the end of the Vienna talks last month that we have advanced at all in closing the gaps? I know you’ve formulated in a way of saying we have some ideas, but can we say the talks have advanced since a month ago?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think, what we can say is that we are engaged in a way that makes it possible to see how we could reach an agreement, but there are still significant gaps. As I said, Iran has said it does not have a nuclear weapon, it does not seek to have a nuclear weapon, and so therefore all of the things that the P5+1 has asked of Iran should be quite simple for Iran to say yes to.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. In the last round in Vienna, you ended up starting to already draft the comprehensive agreement, and at the end it didn’t happen. Do you expect this round to – that you’ll be able to get into the actual drafting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, there was some drafting and negotiations that took place in the last round. This is a slow and complex process. I know that Minister Zarif is saying that we should slowly start drafting the comprehensive agreement. A little bit of that was done the last time. I would expect that more will take place during this round.
QUESTION: Hi, there. Thank you for taking the call. It really just – slight repetition on the Iraq point, but one of our colleagues in the Gulf has said today that preliminary talks have already taken place between the U.S. and Iran with a view to setting up talks in the margin today. I wondered if you could confirm that or not.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to. So when you say “preliminary talks,” what are you referring to? I haven’t seen any reports.
QUESTION: Well, what I’m referring to is one of my colleagues in the Gulf is reporting this morning that initial contact between Washington and Tehran was first made three days ago. I was wondering if you were able to substantiate that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not aware of that at all, and nothing has occurred yet here in Vienna.
QUESTION: Thanks for doing this. I was struck by a speech Rouhani gave this weekend at a press conference where he basically said whatever happens, whether there’s a deal or not, we’re not going back to the way it is. The sanctions regime is crumbling and sort of we’ve shown a nice face to the world, and that’s basically enough. Is that a concern of you that there’s basically this strategy, and it seems to be very calculated – whether it’s Zarif’s editorials in The Washington Post, some of his interviews – that they’re sort of trying to push all of the momentum sort of behind these talks, and if it breaks down, it’s the West’s fault, and we did what we could? Is that a concern of yours given what their senior leaders are saying in recent weeks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think you’ve offered an evaluation of why they are saying what they’re saying and why they are doing what they’re doing. I could do something similar by saying that, in fact, even though everyone said that the Joint Plan of Action would undermine the sanctions, that they would crumble, that they would fall apart, that, in fact, didn’t happen whatsoever. Indeed it’s been very difficult for Iran to get its economy back up and running. There have not been breakthroughs or crumbling of the sanctions regime at all, and there have been ongoing enforcement efforts of all of the sanctions that remain in place and the fundamental architecture of all of the sanctions remain in place.
So I’m not surprised for Iranian leadership to make the case that they are. I could also make the case that, indeed, if we cannot come to an agreement (inaudible) if Iran does not feel it can make the choices that are necessary, I have no doubt that the Congress will take action. And the Administration has said we would support the Congress at the appropriate time to do so. So I think that it’s, quite frankly, most worthwhile for all of us to focus on the hard work necessary to get an agreement by July 20th that is in Iran’s best interest – obviously for them to define, not for me to define. But looking from the outside, it would seem to me it would be in their best interest to do so, and it’s certainly in the interest of the international community that we are sure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful.
QUESTION: Hey guys, thank you for doing this. And just to – I know you don’t want to talk about the possibility of an extension, you’re focused on reaching an agreement in the next month or so; but just for clarity, if there is an extension, would the sanctions relief be continued at the current rate, the way that the monthly kind of payments are made, et cetera, or is that subject to a further negotiation, you would have to start from scratch on compensation and so on?
What little has leaked out of the talks has been fairly negative, and even you refer to it, about the significant gaps that remain. I wondered if you could describe the tenor of the talks. Have there been frustrated moments? Have there been moments where either side has accused the other of bad faith? Have they remained friendly despite the significant gaps? I know there’s only so far you could go, but I wondered if you’d just describe the overall tenor.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. So I would say the overall tenor has been professional, has been constructive, has been quite serious. I think I said to you all last time I had no doubt that Iran wanted to try to reach an agreement by July 20th, that they were – their intent was to do so, that they were serious about doing so, but that I thought that they needed to be more realistic about what was necessary to do so. But it’s been very professional. And in the bilateral talks we had in Geneva, we all know each other quite well as negotiators and so it was very direct, and no one has threatened on any of my colleagues in the P5+1 or Iran to walk out of the room. We may have some very tense moments in the days ahead as we get closer to July 20th. The stakes are high here and difficult. So I’m sure there will be very, very difficult moments, but so far those difficult moments have been approached with professionalism.
In terms of – what was your other question? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Just about – and this is more procedural, but if you have to go – if you have to extend, would the sanctions relief continue at the same pace, the way it’s doled out every month in those increments, or is that – would that have to be subject to a new negotiation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, there is nothing automatic about an extension and certainly nothing automatic about the terms of an extension, and any extension would have to be mutually agreed. And that’s all in the Joint Plan of Action.
QUESTION: Yes. This is Mounzer Sleiman. Can you please give us an idea about the process of consultation? Assuming there is a draft agreement, how you consult with the Congress, how you consult with the other countries, namely Israel – who had some objection, strong objection – Saudi Arabia, and others? Is that during the process or after the draft agreement is concluded? And can you assess the position of Russia toward this negotiation in light of this agreement on many files now, many issues like Ukraine, Syria, other issues that some people think that Russia probably is not as helpful in this negotiation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, let me say there’s a healthy competition here in Vienna this week, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the nuclear negotiation. France won its World Cup game yesterday, I think it was. Germany has a game at 6 this evening Vienna time, Iran at 9 p.m. Vienna time. The U.S., unfortunately, our game is at midnight Vienna time. Russia I think plays tomorrow or the next day. China is not in the World Cup, but I think Great Britain’s already had its first game. So I just wanted you all to know before we finish this call the World Cup fever has presented itself here in Vienna already, and I’m sure it will be on the margins of these talks as well.
To be more serious about your particular question, we consult on a regular basis with all the Gulf countries, with Israel, and with many other countries around the world on a regular basis. And in particular with the Gulf states and with Israel before and after every single round, we have consultations with them and let them know where things stand, where we’re headed, answer whatever questions we can. Of course, we are all mindful of being respectful of the negotiation process, but we think it’s quite important.
We are doing this on behalf of the United Nations Security Council and we take our responsibility on behalf of the UN quite seriously in that regard, so remain in very close consultation. Where Russia is concerned, as I said earlier, (inaudible) Sergei Ryabkof and his superiors have stayed very focused on this nuclear negotiation. And even though there are areas of profound disagreement on the way ahead on several matters, on this one we are focused on the same objective.
QUESTION: What kind of role do you see for Iran in Iraq to stabilize the situation over there? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good try. I’m not going to speak to Iran in Iraq. I’d urge you to talk to Iran about how they see themselves in Iraq. That’s for them to say, not for me to say.
Click here for the full text.

Iran Fact File: Analysis of Iranian Breakout Calculations

      A report recently published by quasi-official Iranian website NuclearEnergy.ir claims Tehran would need at least 18 months to produce enough enriched uranium for one bomb. But that timeline differs drastically from the U.S. estimate of two months because of questionable methodology, according to Iran Fact File, a project of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Ferenc Dalnoki Veress notes that the Iranian report “ignores the risk of clandestine nuclear facilities, such as centrifuge plants, conversion plants and hot cells,” which factor in to Western estimates of Iran’s breakout time. The following are excerpts from Iran Fact File’s response to the Iranian article.

Issue 1
“Iran is also constructing a heavy water research reactor. The nascent reactor in Arak, known as the IR-40, has a capacity of 40 Mega-watt (MW) and is designed to meet Iran’s need for radioisotopes, material test and other neutron therapy and neutron studies. The United States and its allies claim that this reactor can produce weapon-grade plutonium. Although plutonium is an inherent element of any reactor of any type, Iran has declared repeatedly that it does not need the IR-40’s plutonium in any shape or form.” (NuclearEnergy.ir)
            It is true that every reactor can make the “element” plutonium, but not every reactor is well suited for producing weapons grade plutonium. In fact, ordinary light water reactors tend to produce reactor grade plutonium when the fuel is removed not weapons grade plutonium. Weapons grade plutonium is much easier to use in a bomb than reactor grade plutonium, although, it must be said that they are both dangerous. Simple, back-of-the-envelope estimates and calculations that are more elaborate, predict approximately 8-10 kg of weapons grade plutonium produced per year from the IR-40 reactor. The type of reactor that Iran has chosen to build is exactly the type of reactor that is of concern for weapons grade production.
Issue 2
“Enriching uranium above 90 percent U-235: although Iran now has the required technology and infrastructure for enrichment of uranium, Iran’s current centrifuge machines are not capable of directly enriching uranium from natural U-235 concentration (or even up to 5 percent) to above 90 percent.” (NuclearEnergy.ir)
            The wording in the article is troublesome. Iran is certainly capable to enrich uranium to 90% enrichment. Say 25 kg of 90% enriched uranium is the goal. You can think of this as a final destination on a long road. A centrifuge is like a vehicle to get to the final goal. You can decide to stop at the 5% milestone or you can continue on along the road to get to 90% final destination. The same vehicle is used either way.
Issue 3
“Assuming the highest estimate of Iranian separative work unit (SWU) capacity, the required time for producing 6,000 SWU will be 6.6 months. But a very obvious and underlying principle has been neglected here . The theoretical critical mass is not reachable even within that timeframe for any non-nuclear weapon states which does not have the expertise. There is some loss and waste of material in the process of learning. Moreover, any chemical conversion and transformation process has its inherent loss in the form of solid and liquid waste as well as in-process holdup. Thus, as a rule of thumb, there is a need for more than 6,000 SWU of HEU as raw material for diversion.” (NuclearEnergy.ir)
            No underlying principle has been neglected. The 25 kg Significant Quantity (SQ) already takes into account processing losses etc. Many analysts suggest that the 25 kg SQ rule is too high. It is NOT the minimum amount that you would need to have to make a nuclear bomb, and it is NOT the critical mass. You could make as much as two 10 kt bombs with that much HEU for a nuclear weapon newcomer country.
Issue 1
“There is no significant amount of plutonium in Iran. Thus, the claimed breakout in this manner is tied to the commissioning of the IR-40 reactor, which is planned for 2015. However, even after commissioning, the reactor must work for many months to irradiate the fuel for production of plutonium. In this regard, the first step, which is to produce the required fissile material, would take at least 2 years after the commissioning of the IR-40. ”
            I am not sure it would take 2 years. However, commissioning the reactor as a violation of safeguards would bring back sanctions and would make a start of the reactor very difficult for Iran. Regardless of Iran’s stated intentions, there is once again a valid concern because of historic precedents: the first nuclear weapon of many countries (Soviet Union, UK, France, India, DPRK (probably)) have been with plutonium. [10] While at the moment Iran may not have ill intentions, it is hard to predict the future.
Issue 2 and Issue 3
The irradiated fuel assemblies comprise different high radioactive materials, which cannot be contacted or worked with except via special facilities called “hot cells.”
Iran has no “hot cell”, which is needed for plutonium extraction and further processes. Construction of such a facility would require at least 4 to 5 years, and the commissioning and the operation would require another 1 to 2 years.
            It is true that Iran would need to have a hot cell and a reprocessing facility to extract the plutonium. However, I think 5 years as an estimation seems too long. Iran’s intentions have to be questioned, because of previous declarations that Iran planned to construct a hot cell for the IR-40. See para 44 and GOV/2003/75:
            "In its letter of 21 October 2003, Iran acknowledged that two hot cells had been foreseen for this project. However, according to the information provided in that letter, neither the design nor detailed information about the dimensions or the actual layout of the hot cells was available yet, since they did not know the characteristics of the manipulators and shielded windows which they could procure. On 1 November 2003, Iran confirmed that it had tentative plans to construct at the Arak site yet another building with hot cells for the production of radioisotopes. Iran has agreed to submit the relevant preliminary design information with respect to that building in due course."
            See also para 74 (Annex) in GOV/2003/75:
            In its letter of 21 October 2003, Iran acknowledged that two hot cells had been foreseen for this project. However, according to the information provided in that letter, neither the design nor detailed information about the dimensions or the actual layout of the hot cells were available at the present time, since they did not know the characteristics of the manipulators and shielded windows for the hot cells which they could procure. Iran indicated in that letter that manipulators would be needed for: 4 hot cells for the production of medical radioisotopes, 2 hot cells for the production of Co-60 and Ir-192 sources, 3 hot cells for waste processing, and 10 back-up manipulators. The 21 October 2003 letter included a drawing of a building which Iran said would contain hot cells for the production of isotopes. In the meeting on 1 November 2003, upon further Agency inquiry, Iran confirmed that there were tentative plans to construct at the Arak site an additional building with hot cells for the production of radioisotopes. Iran stated that that first building was to contain hot cells for the production of “short lived” isotopes, and that it intended to construct the other building to produce “long lived” radioisotopes. Iran agreed to provide preliminary design information for the second building.
            Clearly, there was interest in 2003 for a hot cell that could be used to produce “long-lived” isotopes. Many analysts have taken this these long-lived isotopes to refer to plutonium. Now, hot cells are used for peaceful purposes, but some analysts are concerned that there may be clandestine facilities which could be used to extract plutonium, in batch form, smaller quantities in smaller labs that would pose less risk.
Click here for the full analysis.  

So what happened? Rouhani visits Turkey

Henri Barkey

Why did President Rouhani visit Turkey?
          On June 9-10, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his first visit to Turkey since his election a year ago. It was the first by an Iranian leader to Turkey in 18 years. By contrast, many senior Turks, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, had visited Iran multiple times.
      Accompanied by a gaggle of businessmen, the trip had all the earmarks of a commercial mission. Turks and Iranians often say that they want to substantially increase the volume of trade. Turkey buys large quantities of oil and gas from Iran, but its export markets for other goods have been constrained, often by political considerations. President Rouhani seemed to want to encourage Turkish businessmen to engage with Iran.
      Turks also wanted to renegotiate the price of gas imports from Iran. Turks have long complained that the cost of Iranian gas is far too high given market conditions. Despite long periods of negotiations between the respective energy ministers, however, no deal was reached.
How did events in Iraq impact their discussions?
           The sweep of Mosul by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria happened on the second day of Rouhani’s visit. The magnitude of the loss must have shocked both countries. Jihadist victories do not help either country. Turkey may suffer from a blowback effect, while Iran’s main allies are at risk from an ever-expanding jihadist force now equipped with some of the best armaments in the world.
           The fact that Syria and Iraq have now become one theater of war may force both countries to look for alternatives. Both countries tough their assets in Iraq: Iran particularly with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan. But their ability to dictate events on the ground is limited.
How important was Syria to talks between the Iranian and Turkish leadership? The two countries have differed deeply, with Turkey demanding President Bashar Assad’s ouster and Iran providing Damascus with pivotal diplomatic and military assistance.
            Syria was the elephant in the room during Rouhani’s visit. Its conflict is perceived to have existential importance for both countries. Along with Russia, Iran been one of two key lifelines for Assad’s minority regime. Assad would not have remained in power without Iran and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia that played a vital role in critical battles with the Syrian insurgents. The Iranians are probably more confident about the regime in Damascus than they have ever been. Hezbollah’s help has been quite decisive at times, and Assad has just “won” reelection.
            Turkey, on the other hand, has backed the fractured Syrian opposition. Erdogan’s most important foreign policy objective has been the fall of the Assad regime, and Assad’s resilience has turned into an embarrassment for the Turkish prime minister.
      Yet the Turks and the Iranians have managed to agree to disagree on Syria; they have not allowed the Syrian conflict and their differences to mar their relations, which is quite surprising given the stakes. But Iran needs Turkey for its gas exports, and for Turkey Iran is the only alternative to Russian gas. Turkey’s economy has an insatiable appetite for energy, which has convinced the Erdogan administration to make deals it would have never contemplated before.
           The Turks have been quite supportive of the Iranian nuclear cause. All in all, despite the Syria difference, the Iranians must feel better about their relations with the Erdogan government than one that would have been dominated by Turkey’s traditional secular elites.
Henri J. Barkey is chairman of Lehigh University’s international relations department and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Click here for Barkey's chapter on Iran-Turkey relations.

Photo credits: President.ir


Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo