United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Kerry: Time to Seize Diplomatic Moment

            On March 2 and 3, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s commitment to solve the Iranian nuclear dispute diplomatically at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. “Those who say strike [Iran’s nuclear sites], and hit, need to go look at what happens after you’ve done that,” Kerry told the some 14,000 conference attendees. “This [diplomatic process] is not about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure: If Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel,” he said.
Lew outlined how sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy and pushed it to the negotiating table. But he also warned that “passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective.” The following are excerpted remarks by Lew and Kerry. 

Secretary of State John Kerry
            “Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions. I know many people – there’s been a healthy debate about the approach. We welcome that. But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal: We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period. Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation.
            “But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts. This is not a political policy. This is a real foreign policy. And we mean every word of what we say. You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line: No deal is better than a bad deal. And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal. We are committed to a deal that gets the job done.
            “Why? Because we get it, we understand it. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat. We understand it. We understand it in our gut. And we also know something else. This is not some favor that we do for Israel. This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel. A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world. It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries. There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story.
            “Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time. Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal. Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen. That’s a possibility. Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous. Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.
            “So we say – President Obama and myself and others – we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment. And that’s what we are trying to do. And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible. And we need to give it the space to work. We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.
            “And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead. But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution. Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets –We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify. Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world – it’s verify and verify. And that’s what we intend to do.
            “Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place. And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement. In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it. We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture. And yet we are able to negotiate. Our eyes, my friends, are wide open. This is not a process that is open-ended. This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel. That, I promise.
            “Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer. The first step agreement, the first step agreement – it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement – and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back. And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations. Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium. And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect. The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller. Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero. Zero. Zero. You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.
            “The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor. Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow. You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long. We’ve never had people in it. But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening.
            “None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners. But now, my friends, we have to finish the job. Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy. It’s results that count, final results. And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.
            “Now, right now we are carefully – and I mean carefully – negotiating a comprehensive agreement. We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly. The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.
            “You might be asking: If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal? Well, you have my word – and the President’s – that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way. First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon? Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims? And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?
            “Those are the tests. Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement. It’s that simple. And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement. Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions. It’s up to Iran. It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.
            “Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation. And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions. And let me assure you – I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here – I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances.
            “In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions. I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted. And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms: Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs.
            March 3, 2014 at the AIPAC conference
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
      “We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history.  And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program.  Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January. 
            “Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back. 
            “The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program.  Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is—and will remain—exclusively peaceful. 
            “Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place.  Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate.  And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
            “We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with.  Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.
            “Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed.  I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation.  And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.
            “To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation.  We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective.  But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.
            “The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully.  And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited—totaling an estimated $7 billion.  To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.
            “Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program.  The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports.  It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks.  The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks.  The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.
            “If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place.  And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.  
            “All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world. The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.
            “Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong.  After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators.  This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize. 
            “There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery.  It is a drop in the bucket.  In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales. 
            “What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations.  This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community.  Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.
            “Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action.  For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism.  As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will—and I quote—‘come down on them like a ton of bricks.’
            “Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force.  Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.”
March 2, 2014 at the AIPAC conference



House Leaders Pen Letter to Obama on Iran

      On March 3, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA, left) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD, right) released a letter expressing grave concern that “Iran's industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.” The letter addressed to President Barack Obama notably did not include a call for new sanctions amidst ongoing nuclear negotiations, which some members of Congress had called for in recent weeks. But Cantor and Hoyer urged the president to consult closely with Congress on sanctions relief if an agreement is reached or implementing new ones if talks fail. The House leaders are gathering signatures before delivering the letter. The following is the full text.

Dear Mr. President:
As your partner in developing the broad-based sanctions that – in bringing Iran to the negotiating table – have played an essential role in your two-track approach to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, we support your diplomatic effort to test Iran’s willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and satisfactorily resolve all critical issues concerning its nuclear program.
Iran’s history of delay, deception, and dissembling on its nuclear program raises serious concerns that Iran will use prolonged negotiations as a tool to secure an economic lifeline while it continues to make progress towards a nuclear weapon. Iran’s leaders must understand that further sanctions relief will require Tehran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon and fully disclose its nuclear activities.
We are hopeful a permanent diplomatic agreement will require dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities, such that Iran will not be able to develop, build, or acquire a nuclear weapon. We do not seek to deny Iran a peaceful nuclear energy program, but we are gravely concerned that Iran's industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.
Because we believe any agreement should include stringent transparency measures to guarantee that Iran cannot develop an undetectable nuclear weapons breakout capability, Tehran must fully and verifiably implement its Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, answer pending IAEA questions, and comply with the transparency measures requested by the Director General of the IAEA, as well as with any additional verification and monitoring measures necessary to ensure Iran is abiding by the terms of any agreement. Such measures should include an agreement granting the IAEA necessary access to inspect all suspect sites, including military facilities, and providing an unfettered ability to interview Iranian scientists and personnel associated with Iran’s nuclear program.
As negotiations progress, we expect your administration will continue to keep Congress regularly apprised of the details. And, because any long-term sanctions relief will require Congressional action, we urge you to consult closely with us so that we can determine the parameters of such relief in the event an agreement is reached, or, if no agreement is reached or Iran violates the interim agreement, so that we can act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran’s calculation.
Finally, although the P5+1 process is focused on Iran’s nuclear program, we remain deeply concerned by Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its horrendous human rights record, its efforts to destabilize its neighbors, its pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and its threats against our ally, Israel, as well as the fates of American citizens detained by Iran. We want to work with you to address these concerns as part of a broader strategy of dealing with Iran.
We are hopeful your two-track strategy will convince Iran to change course and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. None of us desires military conflict, but as you yourself have acknowledged, we must keep all options on the table to prevent this dangerous regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Eric Cantor
Steny H. Hoyer


UN Watchdog: Iran Implementing Nuke Deal

       On March 3, the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s director general reported that Iran has implemented the six measures contained in the interim nuclear agreement. “The measures implemented by Iran, and the further commitments it has undertaken, represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues,” Yukiya Amano (left) said during a quarterly Board of Governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

      The United States and other Western powers urged Iran to address the international community’s concerns about suspected atomic bomb research. “We expect Iran to fulfill its commitment under the Framework by providing all information related to its work on Exploding Bridge Wire detonators,” U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Joseph Macmanus said in the meeting. The European Union also called on Iran to “provide the agency with access to all people, documents and sites requested.” But Iran’s IAEA representative Reza Najafi said Tehran does “not recognize” the allegations. The following are excerpted remarks from the IAEA meeting.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano
            Concerning safeguards implementation in Iran, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
            Iran implemented, within the agreed three-month period, the six initial practical measures contained in the Annex to the Framework for Cooperation between Iran and the Agency. We are analysing the information provided by Iran and have requested some additional clarifications.
            Last month, the Agency and Iran agreed on the next seven practical measures, which are to be implemented by 15 May. One of these, concerning exploding bridge wire detonators, is related to information contained in the Annex to my report to the November 2011 Board.
            With the endorsement of the Board of Governors, the Agency has started to undertake monitoring and verification in relation to the nuclear-related measures set out in the Joint Plan of Action agreed between the E3+3 and Iran. As of today, measures agreed under the Joint Plan of Action are being implemented as planned, including the dilution of a proportion of Iran’s inventory of UF6 enriched up to 20 percent, which has reached the half-way mark.
            Let me briefly mention funding of the Agency’s activities related to the Joint Plan of Action. Seventeen countries have expressed interest in contributing extrabudgetary funds, for which I am grateful. As of today, we are still short of some €1.6 million. I invite Member States which wish to do so to make contributions.
            Mr Chairman,
            The measures implemented by Iran, and the further commitments it has undertaken, represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.
            In particular, clarification of all issues related to possible military dimensions, and implementation by Iran of its Additional Protocol, are essential for the Agency to resolve all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear activities.
U.S. Statement as Delivered by Ambassador Joseph Macmanus 
            The United States would like to offer our appreciation to the Director General and his staff for the February 20 report on the “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”  We commend the objective, expert, and professional manner in which the Agency continues to implement Iran’s safeguards agreement and other undertakings. This is reflected in the Director General’s latest report and in the Agency’s rigorous efforts to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.  In this regard, we welcome the Agency’s continued monitoring of the nuclear-related understandings contained in the Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 and Iran. 
            In his report, the Director General confirmed that Iran has implemented the six practical measures pursuant to the November 11 “Joint Statement on a Framework for Cooperation” between the IAEA and Iran.  We note that the IAEA has requested clarification of information related to these issues, and urge Iran to cooperate fully with the Agency to that end.  Furthermore, we welcome the announcement by the IAEA and Iran of the next phase of practical measures under the Framework. 
            While Iran has committed to address one aspect of the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program under the Framework, it remains critical for Iran to address substantively all of the IAEA’s and the international community’s outstanding concerns regarding its past and present activities, particularly those related to PMD.  As a step in this direction, we expect Iran to fulfill its commitment under the Framework by providing all information related to its work on Exploding Bridge Wire detonators the Agency needs to begin addressing the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.  We note, however, this is but one of multiple interconnected issues related to PMD that Iran must address.   And as we have previously stated, and would like to underscore, a satisfactory resolution of PMD issues will be critical to any long-term comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear issue…
            In his report, the Director General confirms that Iran is continuing to fulfill its commitments pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action, thereby beginning to address some of our most urgent concerns regarding its nuclear program.  For example, Iran has halted uranium enrichment activities above 5-percent; it is taking steps to eliminate its stockpile of near-20 percent low enriched uranium hexafluoride; has not installed any new components at the IR-40 reactor; and has not manufactured or tested additional IR-40 fuel since January 20.  We look forward to further updates from the IAEA on the status of Iran’s fulfillment of the nuclear-related understandings in the Joint Plan of Action. 
            The Joint Plan of Action has given us time and space to pursue a diplomatic resolution with Iran, and, on February 18 here in Vienna, the P5+1, the EU, and Iran began talks on achieving a long-term comprehensive solution.  This round of talks was productive and helped clarify the framework for deliberations going forward, including a timetable for meetings in the weeks and months ahead.  As evidence of the immediacy and importance the P5+1, the EU, and Iran place on this effort, technical experts are meeting this week to prepare for the next round of Political Director-level talks which are scheduled for March 17 here in Vienna.  We know these negotiations will be difficult and complex, but we remain committed to our best efforts to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution which addresses the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program and provides the necessary long-term confidence that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.  
            As the Director General notes in his report, “The measures implemented by Iran and the further commitments it has undertaken represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.”   We urge Iran to address all of these issues substantively and without delay.  Only with Iran’s complete and full cooperation will the IAEA be able to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, which remains central to the efforts to achieve a long-term comprehensive solution. 
Remarks to the Press by Iranian Ambassador Reza Najafi
            “In our view, those claims are baseless and we haven't received any substantiated document in that regard. However, we continue to work with the agency trying to remove ambiguities.”
European Union Statement
            “We urge Iran to cooperate fully with the agency regarding PMD [possible military dimensions] issues, and to provide the agency with access to all people, documents and sites requested.”


Photo credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au [CC-BY-3.0-au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


Obama: Nothing to Lose from Nuke Talks

      On February 27, President Barack Obama told Bloomberg View that the world’s six major powers have nothing to lose from nuclear talks with Iran. If the two sides fail to agree, “the worst that will have happened is that we will have frozen their program for a six-month period. We’ll have much greater insight into their program,” argued Obama. He also warned Congress against imposing new sanctions, which could risk derailing negotiations. Obama emphasized that President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from Iranian hardliners who do not trust the United States.
            The president also suggested that Iran may be able to change its relationship with the outside world and stop supporting extremist groups. He posited that the peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute could strengthen progressive voices in Iran. Iran’s further integration into the world economy could lead to “more travel and greater openness,” Obama suggested. The following are excerpts from his interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
            There’s never been a negotiation in which at some point there isn’t some pause, some mechanism to indicate possible good faith. Even in the old Westerns or gangster movies, right, everyone puts their gun down just for a second. You sit down, you have a conversation; if the conversation doesn’t go well, you leave the room and everybody knows what’s going to happen and everybody gets ready. But you don’t start shooting in the middle of the room during the course of negotiations…
            Over the course of several years, we were able to enforce an unprecedented sanctions regime that so crippled the Iranian economy that they were willing to come to the table and, in fact, helped to shape the Iranian election, and that they are now in a joint plan of action that for the first time in a decade halts their nuclear program -- no centrifuges being installed; the 20 percent enriched uranium being drawn down to zero; Arak on hold; international inspectors buzzing around in ways that are unimaginable even a year ago -- what that all indicates is that there is the opportunity, there is the chance for us to resolve this without resorting to military force.
            And if we have any chance to make sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons, if we have any chance to render their breakout capacity nonexistent, or so minimal that we can handle it, then we’ve got to pursue that path. And that has been my argument with Prime Minister Netanyahu; that has been my argument with members of Congress who have been interested in imposing new sanctions. My simple point has been, we lose nothing by testing this out.
Iran’s Potential to Change
            For years now, Iran has been an irresponsible international actor. They’ve sponsored terrorism. They have threatened their neighbors. They have financed actions that have killed people in neighboring states.
            And Iran has also exploited or fanned sectarian divisions in other countries. In light of that record, it’s completely understandable for other countries to be not only hostile towards Iran but also doubtful about the possibilities of Iran changing. I get that. But societies do change -- I think there is a difference between an active hostility and sponsoring of terrorism and mischief, and a country that you’re in competition with and you don’t like but it's not blowing up homes in your country or trying to overthrow your government…
            If… they [Iranians] are capable of changing; if, in fact, as a consequence of a deal on their nuclear program those voices and trends inside of Iran are strengthened, and their economy becomes more integrated into the international community, and there’s more travel and greater openness, even if that takes a decade or 15 years or 20 years, then that’s very much an outcome we should desire.
            So again, there’s a parallel to the Middle East discussion we were having earlier. The only reason you would not want us to test whether or not we can resolve this nuclear program issue diplomatically would be if you thought that by a quick military exercise you could remove the threat entirely. And since I’m the commander in chief of the most powerful military on earth, I think I have pretty good judgment as to whether or not this problem can be best solved militarily. And what I’m saying is it’s a lot better if we solve it diplomatically.
Iran’s Strategy
            I’m not big on extremism generally… What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits. And that isn’t to say that they aren’t a theocracy that embraces all kinds of ideas that I find abhorrent, but they’re not North Korea. They are a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.
Iran's Involvement in Syria
            I threatened kinetic strikes on Syria unless they got rid of their chemical weapons. When I made that threat, Syria denied even having chemical weapons. In the span of 10 days to two weeks, you had their patrons, the Iranians and the Russians, force or persuade Assad to come clean on his chemical weapons, inventory them for the international community, and commit to a timeline to get rid of them.
            We’ve now seen 15 to 20 percent of those chemical weapons on their way out of Syria with a very concrete schedule to get rid of the rest. That would not have happened had the Iranians said, ‘Obama’s bluffing, he’s not actually really willing to take a strike.’
Sunni Fears
            I think that there are shifts that are taking place in the region that have caught a lot of them off guard. I think change is always scary. I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran, even if most of that was rhetorical and didn’t actually translate into stopping the nuclear program. But the rhetoric was good.
            What I’ve been saying to our partners in the region is, ‘We’ve got to respond and adapt to change.’ And the bottom line is: What’s the best way for us actually to make sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon?
Iran Sanctions
            If, in fact, they can’t get there [arrive at a nuclear deal], the worst that will have happened is that we will have frozen their program for a six-month period. We’ll have much greater insight into their program. All the architecture of our sanctions will have still been enforced, in place. Their economy might have modestly improved during this six-month to one-year period. But I promise you that all we have to do is turn the dial back on…
            95 percent of it [sanctions regime] never got turned off. And we will be in a stronger position to say to our partners, including the Russians, the Chinese and others, who have thus far stuck with us on sanctions, that it is Iran that walked away; it wasn’t the U.S., it wasn’t Congress, it wasn’t our new sanctions that jettisoned the deal. And we will then have the diplomatic high ground to tighten the screws even further. If, on the other hand, it is perceived that we were not serious about negotiations, then that ironically is the quickest path to sanctions unraveling, if in fact Iran is insincere.
            The logic of sanctions was to get them to negotiate. The logic of the joint action plan is to freeze the situation for a certain period of time to allow the negotiators to work. The notion that in the midst of negotiations we would then improve our position by saying, ‘We’re going to squeeze you even harder,’ ignores the fact that [President Hassan] Rouhani and the negotiators in Iran have their own politics. They’ve got to respond to their own hardliners. And there are a whole bunch of folks inside of Iran who are just as suspicious of our motives and willingness to ultimately lift sanctions as we are suspicious of their unwillingness to get rid of their nuclear program…
            So the logic of new sanctions right now would only make sense if, in fact, we had a schedule of dismantling the existing sanctions. And we’ve kept 95 percent of them in place. Iran is going to be, net, losing more money with the continuing enforcement of oil sanctions during the course of this joint plan of action than they’re getting from the modest amount of money we gave them access to.
            And, by the way, even though they’re talking to European businesses, oil companies have been contacting Iran and going into Iran, nobody has been making any deals because they know that our sanctions are still in place. They may want to reserve their first place in line if, in fact, a deal is struck and sanctions are removed. That’s just prudent business.
            But we’ve sent a very clear message to them and, by the way, to all of our partners and the P5 + 1 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany], that they better tell their companies that their sanctions are still in force, including U.S. unilateral sanctions. And we’re going to enforce them, and we’ve been enforcing them during the course of these discussions so far.
Military Option
            We have a high degree of confidence that when they [Iranians] look at 35,000 U.S. military personnel in the region that are engaged in constant training exercises under the direction of a president who already has shown himself willing to take military action in the past, that they should take my statements seriously. And the American people should as well, and the Israelis should as well, and the Saudis should as well.
            Now, that does not mean that that is my preferred course of action. So let’s just be very clear here. There are always consequences to military action that are unpredictable and can spin out of control, and even if perfectly executed carry great costs. So if we can resolve this issue diplomatically, we absolutely should.

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Gallup:Iran No Longer Number One Enemy

            Half as many Americans view Iran as the United States’ greatest enemy as did two years ago, according to a new Gallup poll. Some 20 percent of Americans polled see China as the top U.S. enemy. About 16 percent of Americans see Iran as the greatest enemy. The same amount considers North Korea the number one enemy. The November 2013 interim nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers “may be the main reason the American public is taking a less antagonistic view of Iran,” according to Gallop. The following are excerpts from the poll report.

After the top three countries, 9% of Americans mention Russia, 7% name Iraq, 5% Afghanistan, and 3% Syria.
Gallup first asked this open-ended question in 2001, and opinions have shifted over that time. In the 2001 survey -- 10 years after the Persian Gulf War but before the 2003 Iraq war began -- Americans named Iraq as the greatest U.S. enemy by a large margin.
By 2005, with the U.S. nearly two years into the Iraq war, Iraq and North Korea tied as the greatest enemy, with 22% mentioning each country. The next year, Iran surged to the top of the list, with 31% of all mentions, and it remained the most often cited enemy until this year.
The drop in mentions of Iran as the greatest enemy in this year's poll has been accompanied by increases in the percentages mentioning North Korea (from 10% in 2012 to 16%), Russia (from 2% to 9%), and Syria (from less than 1% to 3%). The percentage mentioning China, however, has stayed virtually the same. Thus, China now tops the list mainly because Americans' views on the nation's enemies are more divided among several countries rather than focused on one dominant country, as in recent years.
Iran reached an agreement last November with several of the world's largest nations, including the United States, to limit its nuclear activity. Those nations in return agreed to ease some of the sanctions on Iran. That agreement may be the main reason the American public is taking a less antagonistic view of Iran.
This week, Iran and the same countries agreed to a framework for continued negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear capabilities.
Importantly, although Americans are less likely to regard Iran as the greatest U.S. enemy, their basic favorable and unfavorable opinions of Iran have improved only slightly this year, and remain overwhelmingly negative.
Key Subgroups' Perceptions of the Nation's Greatest Enemy Are Similar
Americans in all major subgroups are less likely now than in 2012 to name Iran as the United States' greatest enemy. Groups that were among the most likely to view Iran as the top enemy, such as men, older Americans, and college graduates, tend to show the greatest declines.
There are not major differences by subgroup in current perceptions of the greatest U.S. enemy. Older Americans and Republicans are a bit more likely than younger Americans and Democrats to name Iran as the top enemy. In turn, younger Americans and Democrats more commonly view North Korea as the No.1 enemy.
Americans' perceptions of the United States' greatest enemy have varied over time, usually in response to developments on the world stage. As such, the sharp drop in their likelihood of naming Iran as the United States' top enemy is probably tied to Iran's continued willingness to agree to international limitations on its nuclear capabilities.
However, Iran's reluctance to agree to limitations in the past has made U.S. and world leaders cautious about whether Iran will uphold its end of any agreement. Indeed, the Senate is preparing a measure to impose new sanctions on Iran if it does not curtail its nuclear program.
With fewer Americans currently regarding Iran as the greatest enemy, China now tops the list, ranking just slightly ahead of Iran and North Korea. Americans in general view China much more positively than Iran, though on balance, still negatively. They may regard China's emerging economic power to be as threatening, if not more so, than the potential military threats from Iran and North Korea.

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