United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

State Dept: 2013 Human Rights Report on Iran

            On February 27, the State Department released its annual country reports on human rights practices. The following are excerpts from the Iran chapter.
Executive Summary
Despite high popular participation in the country’s June 14 presidential election, candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria, as well as limitations on civil society, print and electronic media, and election monitoring by credible nongovernmental observers, continued to undermine the freedom and fairness of the electoral system. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces frequently committed human rights abuses.
The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.
Other reported human rights problems included: disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression, such as beatings and rape; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of security forces; denial of fair public trials, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; the lack of an independent judiciary; political prisoners and detainees; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech (including via the internet) and press; harassment of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, and religion; some restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.
The government took few steps to prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed abuses. Members of the security forces detained in connection with abuses were frequently released soon after their arrest, and judicial officials did not prosecute offenders. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government and its agents reportedly committed acts of arbitrary or unlawful killings, including, most commonly, by execution after arrests and trials lacking in due process. The government made limited attempts to investigate allegations of deaths that occurred after or during reported torture or other physical abuse, or after denying detainees medical treatment. Members of ethnic minority communities were disproportionately victims of such abuses…
b. Disappearance
There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year. Plainclothes officials often seized journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on those taken. In other cases authorities detained persons incommunicado before permitting them to contact family members…
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” but there were several credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners. On October 23, the UN special rapporteur cited allegations that members of religious minority communities, including Baha’is and Sufis, faced torture while in detention.
Common methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement, rape, sexual humiliation, threats of execution, sleep deprivation, and severe and repeated beatings. There were reports of severe overcrowding in many prisons and repeated denials of medical care for prisoners…
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were reportedly often harsh and life threatening. There were reports that some prisoners committed suicide as a result of the harsh conditions, solitary confinement, and torture to which they were subjected. Prison authorities often refused medical treatment for injuries prisoners reportedly suffered at the hands of their abusers and from the poor sanitary conditions of prison life. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were common. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment. The July 31 annual report of the UN high commissioner for human rights noted cases in which authorities subjected prisoners to torture, threats, and solitary confinement after charging them with contacting the Office of the Special Rapporteur…
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, these occurred frequently during the year.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
Several agencies shared responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order, including the MOIS, law enforcement forces under the Interior Ministry, and the IRGC, which reported to the supreme leader. The Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group with local organizations in cities and towns across the country, sometimes acted as an auxiliary law enforcement unit subordinate to IRGC ground forces. Basij units often engaged in crackdowns on political opposition elements without formal guidance or supervision from superiors.
The security forces were not considered fully effective in combating crime, and corruption and impunity remained problems. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including acts of violence against protesters and public demonstrations. There was no transparent mechanism to investigate or punish security force abuses, and there were no reports of government actions to discipline abusers…
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system was subject to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.” The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary, and the heads of the judiciary, the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness…
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. The ICHRI estimated there were 500 political prisoners in the country, including those arbitrarily detained for peaceful activities or the exercise of free expression. Other human rights activists estimated there could be more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
On September 19, the democracy promotion organization Freedom House reported that an estimated 800 dissidents, including journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists, were imprisoned in the country. The CPJ listed 35 journalists imprisoned as of December 1. The ICHRI reported on August 21 that at least 29 students remained in prison on charges related to their political activities and that several of the students had not been allowed any furlough despite a legal furlough requirement…
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” The law states that anyone who undertakes any form of propaganda against the state may be imprisoned for as long as one year; the law does not define “propaganda.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam; the latter offense is punishable by death. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and press, and it used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights issues. According to the CPJ, the government continued a campaign of press intimidation throughout the year…
Internet Freedom
The government restricted access to the internet. The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 26 percent of individuals used the internet during the year.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the ministry, which, along with the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office, composed the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. The same law that applies to traditional press applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary used the law to close websites during the year. NGOs reported that the government continued its restrictions on access to the internet during the year, especially in advance of the June 14 presidential election, as more citizens used it as a source for news and political debate. Internet traffic over mobile communication devices, including cell phones, was reportedly subject to the same restrictions as traffic operating over fixed-line connections…
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education based on political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula. Women were restricted from enrolling in several courses of study and faced limited program opportunities, quotas on program admission, and gender-segregated classes (see section 6, Women)…
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution permits assemblies and marches of unarmed persons “provided they do not violate the principles of Islam.” The government restricted this right and closely monitored gatherings to prevent antiregime protests. Such gatherings included public entertainment and lectures, student and women’s meetings and protests, meetings and worship services of minority religious groups, labor protests, online gatherings and networking, funeral processions, and Friday prayer gatherings. According to activists the government arbitrarily applied rules governing permits to assemble, with proregime groups rarely experiencing difficulty and groups viewed as critical of the regime experiencing harassment regardless of whether a permit was issued. The government sometimes slowed internet speeds or blocked e-mail or text messaging services to disrupt potential public gatherings or demonstrations…
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for the establishment of political parties, professional or political associations, and Islamic and recognized religious minority organizations, as long as such groups do not violate the principles of freedom, sovereignty, national unity, or Islamic criteria or question Islam as the basis of the country’s system of government. The government limited freedom of association through threats, intimidation, the imposition of arbitrary requirements on organizations, and the arrests of group leaders and members…
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Recent Elections: On June 14, voters elected Hassan Rouhani president. The Interior Ministry announced that Rouhani won 50.88 percent of the votes and that turnout was 72 percent of eligible voters. Although the government did not allow outside observers to monitor the election, several organizations observed that, while turnout was high and the official results appeared to be consistent with voter sentiment, the country’s electoral system continued to fall short of international standards for free and fair elections as a result of the supreme leader’s and Guardian Council’s preeminent roles in all political processes, including selecting which individuals were permitted to run…
Political Parties: The constitution provides for the formation of political parties, but the Interior Ministry granted licenses only to parties with ideological and practical adherence to the system of government embodied in the constitution. Registered political organizations that adhered to the system generally operated without restriction, but most were small, focused around an individual, and without nationwide membership. Members of political parties and persons with any political affiliation that the regime deemed unacceptable faced harassment, violence, and sometimes imprisonment…
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women faced significant legal, religious, and cultural barriers to political participation. According to the Guardian Council’s interpretation, the constitution bars women and persons of foreign origin from serving as supreme leader or president; as members of the Assembly of Experts, Guardian Council, or Expediency Council (a body responsible for mediating between the Islamic Consultative Assembly and the Guardian Council and serving as a consultative council for the supreme leader); and as judges. On May 16, the Guardian Council disqualified all 30 women who registered as presidential candidates in the June 14 election. Women served as vice president for legal affairs, minister of environmental protection, minister of women and family affairs, and foreign ministry spokesperson…
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and corruption was a serious and ubiquitous problem. Officials in all three branches of government frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Many officials expected bribes for providing routine service. Individuals routinely bribed officials to obtain permits for illegal construction.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including execution, but it remained a problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were reports of government forces raping individuals in custody (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). Sex within marriage is considered to be consensual by definition, and therefore spousal rape is not addressed, including in cases of forced marriage…
Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide freely and responsibly the spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. By law health and maternity benefits are eliminated for a family after three children. There were no restrictions on the right of married persons to access contraceptives. It is illegal for a single woman to access contraception, although most single women had access to contraception, particularly in urban areas. Couples who plan to marry must take a class in family planning.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law and all human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in conformity with Islam. The government did not enforce the law, however, and provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women. Discrimination restricted women’s economic, social, political, academic, and cultural rights. The governmental Center for Women and Family continued to publish reports on women’s rights with a conservative religious slant and limited the debate on women’s issues to matters related to the home. The center did not raise ideas contrary to the government or its interpretation of Islam…
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse (see also section 1.e.). These groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. Human rights organizations, including the ICHRI and the IHRDC, observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities…
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which may be punishable by death or flogging. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBT persons. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than for such conduct between women…
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected. The government severely restricted freedom of association and interfered in worker attempts to organize. The government imprisoned, harassed, and restricted the activities of labor activists…
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Conditions indicative of forced labor sometimes occurred in the construction, domestic labor, and agricultural sectors, primarily among adult Afghan men. Family members and others forced children to work. The government made no significant effort to address forced labor during the year.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits employment of minors younger than age 15 and places restrictions on employment of minors younger than 18, such as prohibitions on hard labor or night work; however, the law permits children to work in agriculture, domestic service, and some small businesses from the age of 12. The government did not adequately monitor or enforce laws pertaining to child labor, and child labor remained a serious problem.
There were reportedly significant numbers of children, especially of Afghan descent, working as street vendors in major urban areas. Child labor was also reportedly used in the production of carpets. Children also worked as beggars, and there were reports that some children were forced into begging rings.
Click here for the full report.

Report: Iran Media Heavily Restricted

      Iran remains one of the world’s most restrictive countries in terms of media freedom, according to the 2014 World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders. The report noted that at the end of 2013, “Iran continued to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel, with 50 journalists and netizens detained.” The Islamic Republic ranked 173rd out of 180 surveyed countries based on six general criteria including transparency, media independence and legislative framework. The index shows a worldwide decline in media freedom due to an increase in armed conflicts or “overly broad” interpretations of national security needs. Iran moved up one place from the previous year, when 179 countries were surveyed. The following is the bottom of the index and an excerpt from the report.   

170 Cuba
171 Lao People’s Democratic Republic
172 Sudan
173 Islamic Republic of Iran
174 Vietnam
175 China
176 Somalia
177 Syrian Arab Republic
178 Turkmenistan
179 Democratic People's Republic of Korea
180 Eritrea
            Iran, a major regional actor, is playing a key role in the Syrian conflict. The Iranian authorities continue to control news coverage strictly, especially when it concerns its ally, the Assad regime, the Revolutionary Guard presence in Syria and Iran’s financial aid. Any coverage of these subjects is regarded as “endangering national security.” Reporting on the nuclear issue, human rights and prisoners of conscience is also censored. At the end of 2013, Iran continued to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel, with 50 journalists and netizens detained. A few prisoners of conscience were released, but President Hassan Rouhani has not kept his campaign promises to “release all political prisoners” and bring about a change “in favour of free speech and media freedom.”
Click here for the full report.

Photo credit: Kai Hendry from Singapore, Malaysia [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rouhani Tweets: Economy, Nuke Negotiations

            President Hassan Rouhani discussed Iran’s domestic and foreign policy challenges in several statements, interviews and speeches during February 2014. On the economy, Rouhani predicted new growth from foreign investment in anticipation of sanctions relief for Iran's cooperation on the nuclear issue. On unemployment, Rouhani said that Iran needs to expand its knowledge-based economy while upgrading its oil and gas industry. On nuclear negotiations, the president reemphasized that Iran will respond in kind to “mutual respect” shown by the world’s six major powers—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The president’s semi-official Twitter account posted the following remarks in February 2014.



Nuclear Negotiations




Civil Rights




Foreign Relations


Presidential Election


35th Anniversary of Revolution

US Briefs Israel on Iran Nuke Talks

      On February 22, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (left) assured Israeli journalists that Washington is “clear-eyed about the enormous challenges that lay ahead” in final nuclear talks with Iran. The world’s six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States —hope to broker a comprehensive agreement with Iran by July 20.
      Sherman acknowledged that Washington and Jerusalem “don’t always agree on every single tactical approach” but emphasized that they both “share the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran” and “agree that diplomacy is the best option.” The following are excerpts from Sherman’s roundtable with journalists in Jerusalem.
State Department Roundtable with Journalists in Jerusalem
I work hard to talk with my Israeli counterparts before and after every round of the discussions with my European Union and P5+1 colleagues on the Iran nuclear issue, because I think it’s quite important that people here – you, government officials, and opinion leaders here in Israel – know how these negotiations are progressing, and for me to hear and my team to hear their views.
Everyone feels the urgency of resolving this issue. And here that feeling of necessity is at least, if not more, acute than anywhere else, and so the perspectives provided to me are truly invaluable.
As you know, we began the comprehensive negotiations this week in Vienna, where we had, quite frankly, constructive, useful, and workmanlike discussions. We feel we made progress; and although we cannot predict what is ahead, we do have a path forward for how these talks will proceed and an overall framework for undertaking them.
Significantly, the European Union, the P5+1, and Iran were able to agree to a framework that will guide our negotiations over the next five months. While I will not go into specifics – I know you’ll ask, but I will not go into specifics about any particular issue that’s on the table – we have made very clear that all of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program must be addressed in order to get a comprehensive agreement done…
These conversations in Vienna obviously gave us additional insights into Iran’s perspective, and they, of course, heard ours loudly, clearly, and in a unified fashion. We have begun to see some areas of agreement, as well as areas in which we will have to work through very difficult issues. Again, I’m not going to outline what those specific areas are of either agreement or disagreement because we cannot negotiate this agreement in public. But we know the work that lies ahead, and we have begun it and are ready to do it.
I know that some in Israel have many questions about these negotiations. We all do. And there are some everywhere, certainly in my own country, and on any given day myself included, doubt whether we will ever be able to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon at the end of this process. Believe me, we don’t go into these talks with rose-colored glasses on, and we are clear-eyed about the enormous challenges that lay ahead. We do not know if, at the end of the day, we will be able to get this done diplomatically.
I also know that as close as our relationship is, we don’t always agree on every single tactical approach. But as we go forward with these negotiations, it is important to keep in mind that we do, in fact, share the goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. And we do agree that diplomacy is the best option for achieving that goal, if it is achievable. And as we work every day towards that end, we will continue to talk to our partners in the region, here in Israel and throughout the region about how best to get there…
As we begin these next five months of talks, let me say this very clearly: It will be critical that our negotiators and our experts and our partners have the space required to get this done diplomatically and to do the complex, tough work this process demands. This negotiation will be difficult under the best of circumstances, and we cannot afford to do anything to make it harder.
Let me again remind people that nothing is agreed in these negotiations until everything is agreed. And the United States will hold our veto on any agreement until all of our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program are met. Going forward, experts from the United States, the European Union, the rest of the P5+1, and Iran will be in virtually continuous discussions to work on the very complicated, technical details involved in this agreement. And I and the other political directors will meet regularly in Vienna, with the next round of the political director level talks beginning on March 17th.
We know this will be a difficult and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right, but with the intent to complete a comprehensive agreement by July 20th. And we will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get the job done so that we can make the United States, Israel, the region, and indeed the entire world a safer place.
QUESTION: You mentioned [the] possibility to enrich [uranium]…?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I can’t elaborate, because that would be going into the specifics of the negotiation. Iran could choose not to have a domestic program. There are many reasons for them to get their needs met through international cooperation outside of their country. But if, at the end of the day, they do want to have a small, discrete, limited program that addresses practical needs, it is envisioned as a possibility in the Joint Plan of Action. But obviously the capacity, the scope, the facilities, the nature of it would have to be highly constrained, highly monitored, and verified on a quite regular basis…
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: The reason for the first step [interim agreement] was to, in fact, put time on the clock, to stop the advance of Iran’s nuclear program and to roll it back in specific ways so we would have this period of time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. So not to put time on the clock at all; quite the opposite, to put the constraints on Iran’s program to get the transparency that is necessary, to get Iran to make the commitments, decisions to deal with the infrastructure of their program in a way that ensures that they cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.
But this is a very, very complex undertaking. And President Obama has said he gives it a 50-50 chance… Some people here might say zero as well. Iran doesn’t have a great record in the past. We all know that. We all know Iran’s history.
But at the same time, I will say this: Since the Joint Plan of Action was put into effect on January 20th and Iran was to undertake a number of commitments, there is no reason for me to believe – and the IAEA just issued a report; it’s a restricted report, so I can’t speak to it, though as member-state of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, I have seen it. I will say I have no reason to believe but that Iran has kept every commitment that they were supposed to take during the first month. So, so far that’s only one month in a very long road, but it certainly is a better sign than if they had not followed through on their commitments.
QUESTION: You were just talking about the limited possibility. You used the term “practical needs.” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz gave a speech this week in which he said he’s particularly been concerned about that term, because the way that term is placed there he believes would actually allow Iran to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon…
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, as I said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We have to be satisfied that, in fact, this is an exclusively peaceful program, if they have a domestic enrichment program that it is limited, that it is verified, that it is – has tremendous constraints on it. And unless we are satisfied, there will be no agreement. That is true of everyone who sits at the table. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
And everyone has to remember that the United States is engaged in this in the way we are because President Obama believes that this is a fundamental security concern for the United States. And so we will make sure it is an agreement that can stand up and can assure us that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that is an exclusively peaceful program, if there is a domestic, limited, constrained, verified, small, discrete enrichment program.
QUESTION: I’d like to go back to what you said…  about… the next five months… He [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] said that those talks are irrelevant. So you’d like to see him quiet for next five months?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I never tell a prime minister or a president that they should be quiet. I have tremendous admiration for Prime Minister Netanyahu. He, like all prime ministers and president, particularly of democracies, have to say it like they believe it is for the security of their country. That is his solemn responsibility. And so I respect the judgments he makes as the leader of this country. And I would not substitute mine for his where Israel is concerned, or for anyone in this room, for that matter, because you live here. This is your country, you are citizens of Israel; these are judgments you have to make for yourself.
In my own country, the President is the commander-in-chief; he’s the President of the United States. The one concrete example I can give you is he has asked our Congress not to pass additional sanctions legislation right now. We believe very strongly that if the Congress passed additional sanctions legislation, even if that legislation didn’t come into effect for six months or even a year, would send the wrong signal and would heap an additional requirement on this negotiation that might create real problems.
And so our view is if an action risks the negotiation and risks the diplomacy, then the onus becomes on the person who has created that risk, including if Iran takes actions that risk the diplomacy. So this is about everybody; that this is a very difficult negotiation, the consequences are enormous. And so we are asking everyone to be thoughtful about the steps that they take so that we have the time and the space to test whether, in fact, we can get to a comprehensive agreement. We don’t know if we can. But we ought to find out, because the options if we cannot are very difficult and very tough for all of us.
QUESTION: Are you comfortable with Israeli comments and actions here, on the Hill, using Israeli lobby organizations, so on, Israeli comments about the fact that – you heard all the comments – Iran gets everything for nothing, zero enrichments regarding Netanyahu’s position. Are you comfortable with these kind of statements?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: …People will make all kinds of comments. And quite frankly, I would like there to be zero enrichment, I would like there to be no facilities, I would like there not to be an indigenous program. I think I would like many things in life. But that does not mean I will always get them, and that is not necessarily the only path to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon and that the international community can have confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program. So that is certainly a path to that end, but it is not likely to – a negotiation doesn’t mean I get everything I want perfectly. What it means is will I get what I need to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon --
QUESTION: But is the Israeli position unrealistic?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: No, I think the Israeli position is what it is. And as I said, I respect the prime minister’s perspective. I’m sure that next week when he comes to the United States and speaks with the President of the United States, they will have a vigorous and robust discussion. And we have, perhaps, on this a different point of view, but it’s more on tactics than on outcome. On the outcome that we all seek, it is exactly the same. And that outcome is that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that we all are confident in the exclusively peaceful nature of its program. So the objective is identical, and that is what we are focused on.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if you can tell us… whether you feel that they [Iranians] are playing for time or that they are in a rush to get a deal.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think we will see as things go forward. What I can say about this – these three days, two-plus days, two and a half days, is that it was workmanlike. The Iranians were very engaged, very substantive. We had substantive exchanges on details. Our experts got into a discussion on one aspect in some detail. Our experts will be meeting again with Iran quite soon and will be digging into some of the other elements that are necessary in a comprehensive agreement.
There will be virtually continuous discussions from now till July 20th in one form or another, either the P5+1 and the European Union drafting ideas, establishing technical requirements, thinking through the various aspects of a comprehensive agreement, having expert meetings with Iran’s experts, having political level meetings at my level to work through where there are gaps, where there are decisions that have to get made. And I would suspect when we come down to the close here, you may even see the foreign ministers sitting in a room together, because there will be some very tough decisions that will have to get made. So there will be virtually continuous work on this throughout this process.
So I think people do understand that we have to work intensely, we have to take all the time that is necessary to get a good agreement. You know that Secretary Kerry has long said that a bad agreement is much worse than no agreement. So we are going for a good agreement, and not just a good agreement, but an agreement that reaches the objectives that I’ve laid out here about Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of the program. So we all know that we need to do this intensely, that we need to focus, that we need to try to get to that comprehensive agreement, or find out that we can’t.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask the Israeli prime minister – and we’ve been hearing a lot about this, about a strategic closeness between Israel and the moderate Gulf states on the way they perceive this, the whole negotiation process. You’ve been meeting with both – officials from both of them. How similar are the things that you hear in Jerusalem and how similar are the claims that are brought up and being discussed [in the Gulf]?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I’m going to leave here and go to Riyadh and meet with the GCC, as well as meet with Saudi Arabia bilaterally and then onto the UAE for some bilateral meetings on a number of issues. And you should ask them yourselves, and I’m sure you will. I’d like them to speak for themselves.
What I will say is that these talks are solely on Iran’s nuclear program. And I know there is great concern in the region about Iran’s destabilization activities in the region, Iran’s support for Hezbollah – which is an issue obviously for Israel, for Lebanon, and very, very painfully in Syria – and Iran’s providing military advisors and support to Syria.
And we’ve seen today that the UN Security Council has finally passed a resolution on humanitarian access for Syria, 15 to nothing. It is a robust UN Security Council resolution, and now we have to try to see if we can’t actually get some more help to people on the ground, who are being starved to death as a weapon of war, having barrel bombs dropped on civilians, horror after horror in Syria.
So I understand that the region is very concerned about Iran’s activities in the region and throughout the world, as are we, as well as Iran’s actions on human rights, which from an American point of view and an Israeli point of view are not what they should be, and according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But this negotiation is solely focused on the nuclear negotiation. We are not going to make strategic decisions for people who live and work in this region without them. That’s not going to happen.
QUESTION: What can you say about the sanctions?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Iran did get some limited, targeted sanctions relief – auto kits, petrochemicals, gold, precious metals, a better channel to ensure humanitarian goods can get to Iran, and that’s pharmaceuticals, food, medical devices, which never were sanctioned but had a hard time getting in because of the financial sanctions. So we have done those things, and some businesses can legitimately use those small, targeted, limited sanctions to do business. But the major sanctions architecture remains in place. All the UN Security Council resolutions remain in place. And I think it’s taken a little while for businesses and governments to understand what they can and cannot do. I think it is very clear to people now what they can and cannot do.
And I hope what the people of Iran understand is that because they took this first step, they got limited, targeted sanctions relief for this six months. And if they seek – and I believe they do – to have all of the sanctions lifted, the path to do that is very clear; and that is a comprehensive agreement that will assure all of us that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful. So the irony of all of this is that the Iranian people and the Iranian Government understands they can get relief, but the only road to relief is to get that comprehensive agreement, to the full relief that they look for.
QUESTION: I want to go back to (inaudible) what’s going on in terms of (inaudible) and your impression of what kind of political pressure the Iranian negotiation team is under and how it affects the talks…?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: I think there is a reality to there being different points of view in Iran. Certainly, Iran is not the vigorous, robust democracy that Israel is or the United States of America is. Indeed, you know that the list of people who can run for president is decided, in essence, by the Guardian Council. So Iran is a different kind of government than what either Israel or the United States have or want.
But what I do think is real is there are different points of view. President Rouhani was elected. He is a conservative cleric, but he does – it appear – want to create some openings for Iran. He does want to get sanctions relief for his country. He does want to improve the economy. But how far he can go and what he can achieve I think remains to be seen.
So we need to work hard to test this opening. When we had the UN General Assembly, which was, I think, the first effort by this new government at a charm offensive, we heard a lot of good words, but there were no actions. The Joint Plan of Action put some concrete steps on the table, and Iran has taken those concrete steps.
So again, as I said a few moments ago, this is ultimately about verify, verify, verify; that we want to see if Iran will take those concrete steps, if they are real, if they can be verified and monitor, and give us the certainty that – as much certainty as one can get – that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.
QUESTION: Just when you got back to the whole issue of Congress and sanctions – sorry to (inaudible) – do you have any messages that you’d like to say to AIPAC?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I’ve spoken quite directly to AIPAC. I’ve met with AIPAC. And they will have a vigorous debate, I’m sure, when they meet in Washington next week. And what I’ve said to them is I understand that sanctions with tremendous and terrific leadership by the United States Congress helped to bring Iran to the table. And I understand that it’s a little counterintuitive to believe that more of the same wouldn’t do more. But they are now at the negotiating table. We have taken a first step. We have verified the actions to date of that first step and will continue to do so.
We have an opportunity to see if we can get a comprehensive agreement to reach the objectives that I have laid out, and we have to give diplomacy a chance. And we believe very strongly that one of the reasons we are able to have the sanctions enforcement we have had is because the international community believes that we are committed to diplomacy in the first instance. And if we begin to take actions that look like it is putting new requirements on this diplomacy, we may lose the international cooperation we have had for that sanctions enforcement and the international community’s support for what we are trying to do. They will think, indeed, we have other objectives.
So we need to give this diplomacy a chance. We need to create the space for this diplomacy. And I would urge AIPAC to create this space. Yes, it’s fine for AIPAC to say – AIPAC will say whatever it wants to say. But it will be fine if AIPAC says if this doesn’t work, the Congress will take action, because the Congress will. And the Administration will support them to do so.
But that’s not where we are. Where we are now is trying to make this diplomacy work, this negotiation work with our partners – not only those in the room but throughout the world. And we should test this opportunity.
QUESTION: When you say that your international partners expect you to see the diplomatic way, you mean specifically like Russia, China?
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Look, everyone has had to swallow hard because these sanctions make it tough for everybody to do business. It makes it tough for our European partners to do business. They have put many constraints in place. So they have done so because they believed it was an important tool, but it’s not an ends in itself. Sanctions have never been an end in themselves. They have been a tool to get Iran to come to the table in a serious and focused way. We’re here now. We’re here now. So let’s see what we can get done. If we cannot get something done, we will all know what our options are.
QUESTION: What can you say about the plutonium channel? Can you say the same thing that you just said about the enrichment, they can have something that is small, discrete --
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: We – there is – the Arak reactor is of concern. I’ve mentioned that before. And it is addressed in the Joint Plan of Action as something that must be resolved. And I think there are many ways to find the way forward on that facility.
QUESTION: On what you just said, I had the feeling, at least in Vienna, that there’s some kind of – that a lot of the barriers are down, and even on a person-to-person basis (inaudible) there’s more trust between the negotiators than there was, let’s say, at the beginning of the Geneva talks.
UNDER SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, certainly, one would hope that we know each other a little bit better, we can listen to each other a little bit better, we understand each other a little bit better. But that is a long way still, Barak, from what I hope we get to someday, which is a more normal relationship. But that more normal relationship is going to take considerable time.
Click here for a full transcript.

Vienna Talks: New Nuke Deal Framework

            On February 20, Iran and the world’s six major powers agreed on a framework for comprehensive talks on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. “We have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement,” E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Zarif told reporters that the talks were “very serious and more positive than expected.” High-level representatives from the so-called P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — met with their Iranian counterparts for three days in Vienna. They agreed to hold another round of talks from March 17 to 20. The following are excerpted remarks by senior officials on the talks.


E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton
            “We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement.
            “There is a lot to do. It won't be easy but we have made a good start.
            “In addition to our political discussions, we have started the technical work. And we have set a timetable of meetings initially over the next four months with a framework to continue our deliberations.
            “Technical experts will meet in early March, and we will reconvene for the next E3 plus 3 political directors meeting led by Minister Zarif and myself, here in Vienna on 17th March.”
Feb. 20, 2014 in a statement
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “We are focused merely on the nuclear issues and the negotiations don’t include defensive and scientific issues and everyone has accepted that Iran’s defensive capability is no the subject for the negotiations.
            “We won’t close any [nuclear] site and have announced that no one should prescribe anything or dictate a solution to the Iranian nation; the way to ensure the peaceful nature of our program is not closing the sites, rather its peaceful nature should be displayed openly, transparently and based on the international regulations and supervision.
            “We agreed that no one 'surprises' the other side with new claims
            Feb. 20, 2014 to Iranian media
            “We agreed to hold several meetings at the level of Ms. Ashton and me every four weeks by [the Iranian month of] Khordad [May-June] and have working meetings between our experts on different issues which are on the agenda.”

            Feb. 19, 2014 in a Facebook post


Senior U.S. Official Special Briefing

Feb. 20, 2014

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning, everyone. You have just heard Lady Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif say a few words at the end of this first round of comprehensive negotiations that are meant to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community has confidence that Iran has only a peaceful nuclear program.
I believe we have had constructive and useful discussions over the past few days, and we all do feel we have made some progress. Although we cannot predict everything ahead and we all know there will be many twists and turns, we do now have a path forward for how these negotiation will proceed.
In our sessions here in Vienna, we discussed issues of both process and substance. As Lady Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif have said, we will meet back here in Vienna starting on March 17th to continue these discussions at the political director level. In between now and then, experts from the United States, the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, and Iran will work very closely together to make progress on key substantive issues.
We had constructive conversations about all of the issues that will have to be addressed as part of the comprehensive agreement. Those discussions have created the framework and agenda for the negotiations going forward. We are trying to do this in as open and transparent a manner as possible, but for any negotiation to succeed it is critical to leave space for everyone’s points of view to be properly heard and taken into account. So you won’t see a formal, written-down framework or agenda, but we all know what it is and everything is referred to in some way in the Joint Plan of Action.
And as we’ve always said, all of the issues of concern to the international community regarding Iran’s nuclear program are on the table, and all of our concerns must be met in order to get a comprehensive agreement. As the JPOA says, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
These conversations also gave us additional insight into Iran’s perspective, and they, of course, heard our perspective as well. We have begun to see some areas of agreement as well as areas in which we will have to work through very difficult issues. It won’t surprise any of you to know that I’m not going to outline those specific areas here because we’re not going to negotiate this agreement in public. But suffice to say we know the work that lies ahead and we are ready to do it.
As I said the other night, this will be a complicated, difficult, and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right, but we aim to get it done within the six-month context. And we will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get that job done, because we want to ensure that the first step is not the only step and is not the last step.
You know when we first came together in Geneva in mid-October before the P5+1 talks with the European Union and with the new Iranian negotiating team, I said I hoped we could translate the positive tone we had seen during our meetings at the UN General Assembly, what really represented a new diplomatic opening, into specific and concrete ideas about how to move the process forward. We had only heard words at that point, which were encouraging but clearly not enough. Now we have seen some actions. So while we have much, much more work to do, it is worth remembering we have come some distance in a relatively short period of time, and to carry that notion of progress forward with us as we embark on this next, much more difficult task.
So it’s time for all of us to go to work. With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. When I call on you, if you could – I know we know most of you, but please identify yourself and your outlet, that would be great. Thank you. Go ahead, Steve, kick us off.
QUESTION: I’m Steve Erlanger from the New York Times. Understanding what you said about specifics, but could you talk more about the tone and tenor of the discussions, particularly as they moved from the Zarif-Ashton level to the Helga Schmid-Araqchi level? Were there – was there speechifying? Did you happen to hear anything about any ideology? Was it really very workmanlike and decent? Just could you talk some more about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was very workmanlike. We are long past speeches of ideology. That really does not occur. It was very conversational, it was back and forth. It was not one long presentation followed by another long presentation. It was engaged and it was a dialogue. It was substantive. It covered all of the issues that need to be put on the table to establish the way forward in a comprehensive agreement. And I would say that those words are descriptive of everyone at the table.
QUESTION:  What surprised you the most or that you were least expecting that actually took place at the table, either on Iranian reactions or demands, or also in your own – just the way that the dynamic worked? What was the thing that surprised you most over the last couple of days?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I try to and our team tries to enter these negotiations in a very focused, clear-minded – workmanlike is a good word – workmanlike way, and to be prepared, have done our homework. That is true of all of the P5+1 plus the European Union that we do an enormous amount of preparation. We try to come not with specific expectations other than to take another step forward in reaching our objective to ensure that the international community’s confidence is increased that Iran does not have military dimensions to its program, is not seeking and will not obtain a nuclear weapon.
So I don’t think surprise or non-surprise is really the element here. What I will say is that I think that all of us were glad that it was a workmanlike atmosphere, that there were not polemics, that there was seriousness of purpose by everybody at the table, and that we got into quite detailed substantive discussions on very difficult issues. So I don’t think surprise is quite the right word; but in the area in which we were at least satisfied, if not more than satisfied, it was the seriousness, the workmanlike approach, the depth and granularity of discussion.
QUESTION:  The Iranians have been saying in some of their public comments that ballistic missile technology is an issue that they made clear was not up for discussion, suggesting that somehow the United States and the other members of the P5+1 caved in. Is this the case or is this kind of – something that they’re trying to make for their home audience? And also, if you could explain – Ms. Ashton said that the timetable agreed was for four months and you’re still speaking about six months. I mean, is there an attempt to accelerate the process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me do the last part first. Six months I meant from the beginning of the JPOA. But indeed, what we did is set out specific dates that we will meet for the next four months, and we are, in fact, trying to concentrate our energy. The reason we didn’t set out the last month of the remaining five months of the six months is because we don’t know quite yet the intensity with which that last month – what will be required. And my guess is it will require quite a bit because in any negotiation, the end of – if you’re coming to a close, it’s usually pretty intense. Those of you who were there in Geneva got to spend the entire night with us, so you know how these things go. We brought that one to a close at 5 in the morning. So we’ll try to give you that treat once again if we can. (Laughter.) It was a treat for me in particular. So – and for Secretary Kerry.
But on the first issue, I’m not going to speak to any particular item. What I’m going to say is what you will hear me say repeatedly, which is every issue of concern to us has been discussed, will be discussed, is on the table, is referred to in some way in the Joint Plan of Action. The Joint Plan of Action lays out elements for a comprehensive agreement. It talks about all concerns needing to be addressed. It talks about the UN Security Council resolutions needing to be addressed. It talks about making sure that we know that, in fact, this is an entirely peaceful program.
So I think you will probably hear through the course of this from one party or another a specific statement, and I think you should take it for what it is: a point of view, a perspective that’s being put on the table. But as I’ve said, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and all perspectives are being heard.
QUESTION: We’ve heard some expressions from the Iranian side of – it’s difficult for them, some of the statements that U.S. officials have made, to (inaudible) back home, and alternatively, we see Death to America on holidays in Iran still, and posters of Obama (inaudible) expressing frustration from the Iranians. So how have you all discussed trying to lower the rhetoric, given that you both have to deal with the domestic political audience and critics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of the date, I would refer you – dates, I would refer you to the European Union, which coordinates these talks. So I’m sure that I’d send you to Michael Mann in that regard or to Helga Schmid for dates. Secondly – and I hope they share them with you because I agree, we all need to try to plan as best we can. I will say dates are always subject to change, depending upon what the negotiation requires. So even if the EU shares the dates, I would take it as a guide, not as a given, in terms of your own planning.
You’re quite right; everybody in this negotiation, all of the countries in this negotiation, have domestic audiences, have partners, have points of view, have perspectives, will say things that the other side won’t like. That’s going to happen. What we have agreed to try to do is to be thoughtful about the impact those statements will have on the negotiation, and to the extent we can – and we can’t always because things need to be said sometimes – we will try to be thoughtful. But I will say that I’m sure there will be things I will say, but members of the Administration testify to the Congress, give public television interviews, the President of the United States speaks on a regular basis, the Secretary of State speaks on a regular basis. And there are issues of ongoing concern, and they will remain.
QUESTION: ). (Inaudible) reports that (inaudible) persistent reports that Iranians have been present at North Korean nuclear tests. Could you tell us if you have taken this into account in the issues? And if North Korea conducts a nuclear test while you are going through these negotiations, are you prepared to assure us that Iran has no connection to it? Or if it does, what are you going to do about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The United States is always concerned about reports of shared technology and proliferation of technology and of nuclear weapons technology. We follow all of those reports. We look into all of those reports. I’m not going to talk about the specifics of that particular matter here in this setting. We obviously are quite concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program. Secretary Kerry, I’m sure you’ve all noted, was recently in Beijing. It will come as no surprise that this was a very critical agenda item, because in the North Korea context the Chinese have a special responsibility in the Six-Party Talks and in their relationship with North Korea. So this is an ongoing concern all on its own, and we will continue to pursue that on its own terms as well as look, as we always do, to any potential connections regarding proliferation.
QUESTION:  Prime Minister Netanyahu said the last few days a few times that any comprehensive deal between P5+1 and Iran must include zero enrichment, zero centrifuges, zero this, zero that. Do you think that this position is constructive in any way? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe that presidents and prime ministers of every country in the world have to speak to what they believe are the security requirements for their country. And I have respect for the statements made by duly elected, democratically elected presidents and prime ministers in the statements they make about what they need for the security of their country.
That doesn’t mean where it’s an international concern the United States will always agree, but it is important to consult, to listen to our allies and partners around the world. And as you will see in a Media Note that will come out shortly, if it hasn’t already, that our parts of a group of our delegation will be leaving here and traveling to Israel and then on to Saudi Arabia for both bilateral and GCC consultations. This is part of the consultations that we do with partners and allies around the world. We will also be making phone calls to a variety of other partners around the world, which we do on a regular basis before and after each of these negotiation. And we’ll also be making calls to members of Congress starting today to brief them, and we’ll, of course, do appropriate briefings to members when our team is back in Washington.
QUESTION: The question is – it almost reflects what was in that question – as you negotiate the different items you’re dealing with, how flexible are you on what might be considered red lines that everybody has in mind about centrifuges and different things? And in a final package, you’d be willing to give more than they expected in one area and less in another area in order to get a package which might not be acceptable to everyone but which could be sold as a package?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to negotiate this in public. What I’ll say as a matter of principle is it’s a negotiation, but of course, it has an objective. And the objective is to ensure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community has confidence that they have an entirely peaceful nuclear program. So that is the standard for any agreement. That is the objective that must be met by an agreement. And experts will tell you there are perhaps more than one route to that end.
We will welcome all of the consultation we will get, the ones we will seek and the ones that will come to us whether we seek them or not, and many people will suggest one redline or another. But the objective is what matters here at the end of the day. Have we ensured, as the President of the United States has said and as he has committed to doing to ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon, and that the international community has confidence that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful. That is what we will measure with a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION:  There are a lot of mistrust between Iran and the West – of some western countries, and Iran and some of its neighbors. Since let’s say the (inaudible) agreement, do you have a feeling that some of trust has been built around maybe – between P5+1 nations and Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You make an important point. President Obama in his own remarks has said we have more than 30 years of mistrust between our countries. That is not repaired in a day, a week, a month, or even a few months. And that is what we have had since the UN General Assembly and this new administration in Tehran. We have a very long way to go.
So we are negotiating this agreement on the basis of verification, of concrete actions, of transparency. I think we have a long way to go to build what you’re referring to as trust between nations. What I think is useful is that actions are taken, commitments are made and are kept. That’s probably true of all of us.
And again, what we are focused here is on a very specific agenda for these negotiations. And it’s the only agenda for these negotiations, and that is to ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community has assurance and confidence that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful. And we will do that in concrete actions that can be verified.
QUESTION:  Mr. Zarif and Mrs. Ashton, when they spoke, they refrained from the using the phrase – that they have agreed – from saying that they have agreed on a clear agenda. Can you confirm to us that there is a clear and mutually agreed agenda, and whether anything that either the American or the Iranians side wanted to include but was rejected?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What they said is we have set a timetable of meetings initially over the next four months with a framework to continue our deliberations, and that is what I can say to you this morning. We have a framework for continuing our deliberations. We know all of the areas that need to be addressed. From our perspective, they are all covered in one way or another in the Joint Plan of Action. And now we’re going to go to work. Or continue our work. We’ve already started the work. I shouldn’t say, “go to work” – we’ve already started the work in some detail.
QUESTION: Have you heard this morning whether Catherine Ashton may visit Iran in early March? If progress, by your standards, was made in these talks, could you visit yourself or another senior U.S. official visiting Iran in the future?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that what we’re focused on now is these negotiations and making progress in them.
QUESTION: And if progress was made, could you see that as a possibility?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I suppose all things are possible in life. We’ll take this by a step at a time.
QUESTION: Jon Tirone with Bloomberg News. So defining enrichment to a scale and scope, Arak, ballistic missiles – those are three easy technical groups I imagine being formed. Can you give us an idea of how many groups, some level of specificity of what those discussions will be? For example, will there be additional resources and people that have to be brought into the process because of the number of issues to be discussed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is no doubt that we will call on a wide range of experts to address all of the issues that must be addressed to achieve a comprehensive agreement. We are building out our own U.S. team in that regard, and we have reached out throughout our government to resources that we did not use in the JPOA for detailed discussions. There’s a lot of technical detail here because of the wide range of issues. My colleagues who are sitting with me at this table are fantastic and have reached into our government, and I think every government will be reaching into their governments, even to outside experts, to get ideas and to be as creative as possible so that we can meet the concerns that we have as the United States of America and the international community has about the nature of Iran’s program.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The first part of the question, I’m not going to go area-by-area. What I can say is that everything of concern to us is on the table and will be discussed, has been discussed, will continue to be discussed, and will be addressed by the end of this comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION:  A question for next time negotiation: Do you think the negotiation will be tougher than this time, but – based on this time, because you’ve made a timetable? So what’s the task for next time, next negotiation in Vienna? What’s your expectation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My expectation is this entire process is going to be difficult because the issues are difficult. I’ve said that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is what it is. It’s not more or less. It is what it is. It has been difficult from the first step; it will be difficult to the last step. And it will have ups and downs. There will be good days, and there will be days where I’m sure if you all are looking at the thermometer or you’re looking at the chances it will succeed, there will be days, I’m sure, we’ll think we’ll never get here. But we had those days when we were negotiating the Joint Plan of Action. There were moments when we thought, “We’re never going to get to the end of this,” and then moments when we felt, “Well, actually, we can see getting to an agreement.” And at the end of the day, there was the technical expertise, the hard work, and the political will and courage to come to an agreement on a Joint Plan of Action. It will take all of that and more – and more – to come to a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION:  Just to follow-up: Could you say what we expect for next time, for the next round?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m not going to say specifically. What I will tell you is that we have agreed on how we’re going to proceed, what topics we’re going to address. We have made those decisions and choices and we must because we need to prepare for these things and get ready and do the hard work in each of our governments as well as amongst and between the P5+1 and the European Union, and then Iran has its own deliberations to do, to get ready for a meeting. They, too, have an interagency process. And then we will all get down to work – continue our work.
MODERATOR: I think we can do a few more. I’m going to go right here to this gentleman, and then I’m going to go all the way to the back after.
QUESTION:  While the talks have been ongoing, various European firms and concerns have rushed to get back in business with Iran. There has been reports that the U.S. warned Austrian Government specifically not to go too early on this. Are you worried that this rush to get back to business with Iran could hurt the talks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  In terms of business, the JPOA puts on the table limited targeted sanctions relief; and within that limited targeted sanctions relief, business is possible. There are also ways that companies can do legal trade with Iran. There are areas that are not sanctioned. But the fundamental sanctions that the United States and the European Union has in place around oil and banking and financial sanctions does remain in place. And so we want companies to be mindful and thoughtful about what they’re doing.
If the message to Iran and to the Iranian people is that when Iran reaches a comprehensive agreement, there is the potential for and would be the understanding that sanctions would be removed, and therefore Iran would see a more normal business environment so it’s important to negotiate a comprehensive agreement, that’s a useful message. Because our aim – sanctions are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end. And we do not have an end in itself to keep sanctions on. We would like to see the sanctions lifted, but that can only happen in total through a comprehensive agreement.
QUESTION:  How do you expect (inaudible) cooperation among the P5+1 members (inaudible) the level of unity (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The level of unity remains what it always has been, which is extraordinary and very unified. It is not to say we don’t have some national differences; of course we do. But we agree on how we’re going to approach the negotiations. We agree on the substance of how we’re going to approach the negotiations. Sometimes the differences are even useful in the negotiations themselves. And – but we are very transparent with each other and we are very unified in our purpose, because the purpose is so profound for each of our countries and for the international community.
And to repeat myself yet again, it is to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community has confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s program. Because we all are focused on the same objective, we stay very unified.
QUESTION:  Is the plan to have a monthly meeting every month for the next four months? And is (inaudible) the expert talks before each of those meetings? And in terms of the issues, you said you have the topics laid out. Is there going to be kind of, okay, we’re going to focus on this issue, and then this issue and then this one, or are you going to try and all do them at the same time together?
And one slightly broader question: The Iranians are still saying missiles, Arak, Fordow are redlines for us. Do you think that’s just rhetoric?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So again, I would send you to the European Union for the pace and the timetable of these negotiations. We will have regular meetings of the political directors. We will have – I’m sure our experts will be living a lot of their time in Europe. They don’t mind, I think. It’s not bad usually. But these are highly technical talks, as you all know. And not that I don’t know a lot about this and all of the rest of the folks like me don’t know a lot about this now – we do, but we are not experts, we are not nuclear physicists and scientists, and there’s – nor are we market sanctions experts.
So there’s a lot of technical work that needs to go on. So there will be a lot of expert conversation among the P5+1 and the European Union and then with Iran, and then there will be regular meetings at the Ashton, Zarif, Araqchi and Schmid, and political director levels throughout this process.
And as I said in answer to Laura’s question, that you should see any timetable the European Union gives you as a guide, not a given, because we have to get started, and we may dig into the next level of detail and we may find that we need to do this in a different fashion than we have in mind. And so I’m not going to answer that part of your question, which is, “Are we doing it all together, are we doing it piece by piece?” We have a way forward we all have agreed to. We will proceed that way until we find out it works or it doesn’t, and then we will make adjustments as needed to get the job done.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said before, we will all say things during this process, and what matters is what we do in the end, and what we agree to at the negotiating table to reach the objective that I’ve stated several times now.
QUESTION:  China’s vice foreign minister has suggested to continue the talks with more mutual respect and equal footing. How do you think of China’s suggestion and China’s effort in the talks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We always appreciate our Chinese colleagues’ encouragement for all of us to be determined, to be thoughtful, to have consideration for each other’s perspectives, and for working hard to reach the objectives. Our Chinese colleagues – and we have some new Chinese colleagues in this negotiation – always bring expertise and value to our discussions.
QUESTION:  A couple quick questions. In the JPOA, you were saying that everything is written down, that although the framework is not written down, everyone knows what’s in it, everything’s mentioned in the JPOA. So two things about that: How do you deal with the critiques that definitely will be coming from some of your critics in Washington about this isn’t written down, it’s not transparent, you don’t know what’s in it? And secondly, although PMD I think is not specifically mentioned in the JPOA, did the past questions – does that – is that an implicit reference to PMD?
And the second question is: On the sanctions, have you seen any evidence of any deals happening yet where companies are taking advantage of the limited specific sanctions relief? Do you know of any deals? Or is Iran not actually getting any benefit at all yet? Will they maybe not get the $7 billion potential benefits if it all has to be done within six months?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So what I said was that everything we believe needs to be discussed is referred to in one way or another in the JPOA. And I have said in the past that the statement in the JPOA about past and present issues is IAEA-speak for possible military dimensions. That’s something I’ve said in the past. So I think one has to read the JPOA very carefully; but indeed, it says early – I think in the first paragraph – that all concerns to be addressed or resolved – I forget the exact issue, so – the exact wording. So I think we believe that the JPOA, in one way or another, covers all of the issues, creates space for all of the issues that need to be addressed from our perspective.
As for your second part of the question, I know that there have been lots of conversations that have been going on regarding arrangements under the limited and targeted sanctions that people are seeking to take advantage of them in appropriate ways. Part of that $7 billion, as you know, is repatriated funds. All of that is getting worked through. It may be too early to evaluate how meaningful that will be for the Iranian people, but all of the pieces have been put in place, all of the commitments have been kept to indeed do what all sides have committed to doing in the JPOA, at least to date. So we will see.
QUESTION: . If you say the road to a comprehensive solution is, let’s say, a hundred miles long, even the starting line, how far did we get the last few days? One mile, five miles?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think I can’t answer that question, only because I think that I know we’ve used that in the past to talk about before Minister Zarif led these negotiations – the previous negotiating team – we talked about the gap between how many kilometers we needed to travel. I think that’s not appropriate in this circumstance because we are at the beginning of a very complex and difficult process. There may be days we move ahead by miles or kilometers, and days we take a few steps back. And what will be really the only thing that’s meaningful is if we get to the end of this.
This is going to be both a marathon and a sprint all at the same time, because we are trying to do something quite complex in a relatively short period of time. And the intensity of it is really more like a marathon. So a long distance to cover in a sprint period of time.

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