United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Feinstein on Iran in Senate Speech

             On January 14, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) made the following speech on the Senate Floor. The statement was partly to block the proposed Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act (see link at bottom). But it also more broadly tackled the bigger issue of Iran’s future direction, and even prospects of defusing 35 years of hostility between Tehran and Washington. Feinstein addressed the question “Can a country change?”

            Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss a critical issue of national security—how to prevent a nuclear armed Iran.
            As I was thinking about our troubled history with Iran and whether more sanctions at this time make sense for our national security interests, I asked myself these questions:
· Can a country change? 
· Is it possible for an isolated regime to rejoin the community of nations and change its behavior? 
· Must a country and its people be held captive because of the behavior of previous leaders in earlier times?
            So I thought back on history. 
            I was a young girl during World War II.  I remember when Imperial Japan killed millions in Southeast Asia, and particularly China, during its brutal wars of expansion.  Today, Japan is a peaceful democracy and one of this nation’s strongest allies in Asia.
            I remember when Hitler and the German Third Reich committed unspeakable atrocities across Europe-- including the murder of six million Jews.  Germany is now a close ally and a leader in the European Union, an institution created to ensure a war never again occurs in Europe. 
            I remember General Franco’s Spain which was so diplomatically and economically isolated that it was actually barred from the United Nations until 1955.  Spain is now a close partner of the United States and a fully democratic member of the EU.
            The former Yugoslavia, Vietnam and South Africa have all experienced tremendous change in recent decades. 
· Independent states have emerged from the painful dissolution of Yugoslavia;
· Vietnam has opened itself to the international community, but still has much progress to make; and
· South Africa has shed apartheid and has emerged as an increasingly stable nation on a much-divided continent.
            So I believe a nation can change. 
            This capacity to change also applies to the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
            At one time, Sweden, South Korea and Argentina each pursued nuclear weapons. 
· Following World War II, Sweden pursued nuclear weapons to deter foreign attack.  It mastered nuclear technology and built and tested components for a nuclear weapon.  It may have even obtained enough nuclear material to build a bomb.  In 1970, it signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ended its nuclear weapons program.  
· In the early 1970s, South Korea actively sought a nuclear device.  The United States heavily pressured South Korea not to go nuclear.  And in April 1975, it signed the NPT and halted its nuclear weapons-related activities.
· Throughout the 1980s - when it was ruled by a military junta with an egregious human rights record -  Argentina had a covert nuclear weapons program.  It built uranium production, enrichment and reprocessing facilities.  And it attempted to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles before abandoning its nuclear weapons program and ratifying the NPT in 1995.
            The question comes: is Iran willing to change its past behavior and abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon?  It may well be.  It is the job of diplomacy to push for this change.
Election of Rouhani
            I believe there are positive signs that Iran is interested in such a change, and I’d like to explain my reasons.
            The election of Hassan Rouhani was a surprise to many longtime observers of Iran because he campaigned in support of repairing Iran’s relationship with the West.  And since his inauguration he has tried to do exactly that. 
· For the first time since the Iranian Revolution, the leaders of our countries have been in direct communication with each other.  
· Where once direct contact even between even senior officials was rare, now Secretary John Kerry and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman are in near-constant contact with their Iranian counterparts. Those conversations produced the historic Geneva agreement which goes into effect on January 20th.
Geneva agreement
            Candidate Rouhani also promised to increase nuclear transparency, and he has delivered on that as well. 
            Even before the Geneva interim agreement was reached, Iran slowed uranium enrichment and construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor.  Maybe for technical reasons, maybe not. 
            Iran has also re-engaged with the IAEA to resolve questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear activities.
            What has been achieved in Geneva?
            The interim 6-month agreement, reached between the P5+1 countries—the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany—freezes Iran’s nuclear program in place while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated in the next 6 months.  This agreement:
· Caps Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium at 5 percent;
· Stops the production of 20 percent enriched uranium;
· Requires the neutralization of Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium;
· Prevents Iran from installing additional centrifuges or operating its most advanced centrifuges;
· Prohibits Iran from stockpiling excess centrifuges;
· And it halts all significant work at the Arak heavy-water reactor and prevents Iran from constructing a plutonium reprocessing facility.
            Most importantly, the interim agreement imposes the most intrusive international inspection regime ever.   International inspectors will independently verify whether or not Iran is complying with the interim agreement.
For the first time, IAEA inspectors will have uninterrupted access to Iran’s:
· Enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow; 
· Centrifuge production plants;
· Centrifuge assembly facilities; and 
· Iran’s uranium mines and mills. 
            And finally Iran is required to declare all planned new nuclear facilities.
            In exchange, the P5+1 negotiators offered sanctions relief limited to $7 billion--an aspect of the interim agreement that has been criticized. 
            Here are the facts on this sanctions relief, which in my view does not materially alter the biting sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy:
· The vast majority of sanctions relief comes in the form of Iran repatriating $4.2 billion of its own money;
· Iran will continue to lose $4-$5 billion per month in lost oil revenue from existing sanctions;
· Iran will not have access to about $100 billion of its own reserves trapped by sanctions abroad.
· For perspective, the total estimated sanctions relief is valued at approximately 1 percent of the Iranian economy.  Hardly a significant amount.
            I would like to take a moment to detail what is not in the interim agreement.
· First, the interim agreement does not grant Iran a right to enrich.
            The United States does not recognize such a right for the five non-nuclear weapons states that currently have enrichment programs, and we will make no exception for Iran.
            But Iran does have a right to peaceful nuclear energy if it fully abides by the terms of its safeguards agreement under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
· Second, the agreement does not in any way unravel our core oil and financial sanctions. 
            Others have argued the suspension of any sanctions against Iran will unravel the entire sanctions regime.   
            The Obama Administration has taken action to make sure that does not happen.
            Two days after the interim agreement was reached, the U.S. settled with a Swiss oil services company over sanctions violations.  The settlement of more than $250 million was the largest against a foreign firm outside of the banking industry.
            On December 12th, the Administration announced the expansion of Iranian entities subject to sanctions.  These entities either helped Tehran evade sanctions and or provided support to Iran’s nuclear program.
            On January 7th, the Administration halted the transfer of two Boeing airplane engines from Turkey to Iran.
            Through these actions, the Obama Administration has made it abundantly clear the U.S. will continue to enforce our sanctions against Iran. 
· Third, the agreement does not codify the violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions.
            Critics have attacked the interim agreement for its failure to completely halt all of Iran’s nuclear enrichment by noting that six UN Security Council Resolutions have called on Tehran to do so and it has not done so.
            The purpose of the UN Resolutions was not to suspend nuclear enrichment indefinitely. 
            Instead, the resolutions were designed to freeze Iran’s nuclear activities until the IAEA could determine whether or not Iran’s activities were for exclusively peaceful purposes. 
            This is an important point: the interim agreement achieves what the UN Resolutions could not. 
            It freezes Iran’s nuclear progress while a comprehensive, verifiable agreement is being negotiated.
The effect of sanctions on Iran’s economy
            The interim agreement was only possible because a strong international sanctions regime has worked to convince rank and file Iranians that, candidly, enough is enough!
· According to the State Department, as a result of the sanctions, Iranian crude oil exports have plummeted from approximately 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to around 1 million barrels per day in recent months. 
· This decline costs Iran $3 to $5 billion per month in lost revenue alone. 
· In total, 23 importers of Iranian oil have eliminated or significantly reduced purchases from Iran. 
-  Iran currently has only six customers for its oil: China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. 
·  In the last year, Iran’s gross domestic product shrank by 5.8 percent while inflation is estimated to be 50 percent or more. 
· Prices for food and consumer goods are doubling and tripling on an annual basis, and estimates put unemployment as high as 35 percent while underemployment is pervasive.
Menendez legislation
            This body may soon consider the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, a bill to impose additional sanctions against Iran. 
            Before casting a vote, senators should ask themselves what would happen if the bill passes and a promised veto by the president is not sustained?
            I sincerely believe that P5+1 negotiations with Iran would end and with it the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior – a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but change the course of a nation.
            Passing additional sanctions now would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail.
            Iranian conservatives will attack President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif for seeking a nuclear compromise and argue that:
· Iran exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for additional and harshly punitive sanctions;
· If the U.S. cannot honor the interim agreement negotiated in Geneva, it will never lift sanctions after a final agreement;
· Above all, they will argue the U.S. is not interested in nuclear diplomacy—we are interested in regime change;
            The bottom line: if this body passes S. 1881, diplomatic negotiations will collapse and there will be no final agreement.  Some might want that result, but I do not.
            Iran’s nuclear program would once again be unrestrained and the only remaining option to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a military action. 
            To date, the prospect of just considering this bill has prompted Iranian legislators to consider retaliation. 
            There is talk that the legislative branch, the Majles, may move to increase nuclear enrichment far beyond the 5 percent limit in the interim agreement and much closer to, if not achieving, weapons grade uranium. 
            So, the authors of additional sanctions here and Iranian hardliners there actually would combine to blow up the diplomatic effort of six world powers.   
            The bill’s sponsors have argued that increased sanctions would strengthen the United States’ hand in negotiations.  They argue that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table.  They contend that additional sanctions would force Iran to abandon its nuclear program. 
            I could not disagree more.
            Let me give you the views of other individuals who are knowledgeable in the arena:
            Dr. Paul Pillar—a former senior U.S. intelligence official and current professor at Georgetown University—recently wrote:
            It is the prospect of having U.S.- led sanctions removed that will convince Iran to accept severe restrictions on its nuclear program.  Threatening Iran with additional sanctions now--after it agreed to the interim agreement--will not convince Tehran to complete a final agreement.
            If this bill would help our negotiators, as its authors contend, they would say so.
            This bill is an egregious imposition on the executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs.  In fact, our Secretary of State has formally asked the Congress to “give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space to do their jobs,” including no new sanctions.
            To disregard this request is to effectively say we don’t care what our top diplomat says—the Senate will impose our will.  And if it blows up this very fragile process, too bad!  What a tragedy!
            And we know what the Iranian reaction will be: 
            Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif has clearly stated what the result will be summarized in five words: “the entire deal is dead.”
            The Ambassador of our staunchest ally—the U.K.—warned this body not to pass more sanctions.  Sir Peter Westmacott recently wrote:
            “Further sanctions now would only hurt negotiations and risk eroding international support for the sanctions that have brought us this far. The time for additional measures will come if Iran reneges on the deal or if negotiations fail. Now is not that time."
            A vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse.  The United States—not Iran—becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place.
            And it says to the U.K., China, Russia, France and Germany that our country cannot be trusted to stand behind our diplomatic commitments. 
            These allies will question whether their compliance with sanctions (and the economic sacrifices they have made) are for naught. 
            Should these negotiations fall apart, the choices are few and the most likely result, in my view, is the eventual and inevitable use of military force.  
            Is that really the choice we want to make?
Enforcing the Interim Agreement
            Instead this body should concentrate on Iranian compliance with the interim agreement.  
            On January 20, 2014 the interim agreement will come into effect.  Over the next six months, the international community will be able to verify whether or not Iran is keeping its commitments to freeze its nuclear progress.
            If Iran fails to abide by the terms of the interim agreement, or if a final agreement cannot be negotiated, Congress can immediately consider additional sanctions. 
            Additional sanctions should only be considered once our diplomatic track has been given the opportunity to forge a final, comprehensive, and binding agreement.   
            Undermining negotiations now, after achieving meaningful, historic progress, defies logic and threatens to instantly reverse fragile, unprecedented diplomacy. 
            Candidly, it is a march to war.
            As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know the many challenges Iran poses to U.S. interests around the world. 
            Iran’s patronage of the terrorist group Hezbollah and its support for Syria’s Bashar Assad through the Revolutionary Guard Corps are two of the most troubling. 
            And let me acknowledge Israel’s real, well-founded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten its very existence. 
            While I recognize and share Israel’s concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the U.S. goes to war. 
            By stating that the U.S. should provide military support to Israel should it attack Iran, I fear that is exactly what this bill will do.
            The interim agreement with Iran is strong, tough and realistic.  It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. 
            It opens the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security—but protects our own.
            To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.
Click here for the White House statement on the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.

White House: Details of Implementing Iran Nuclear Deal

            On January 16, the White House released the details of implementing the nuclear deal signed by Iran and the world’s six major powers. The following is the White House statement with a link to the European Union's factsheet. 

Summary of Technical Understandings Related to the Implementation of the Joint Plan of Action on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program
On January 12, 2014, the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China, coordinated by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton) and Iran arrived at technical understandings for the Joint Plan of Action, which will be implemented beginning on January 20, 2014.
The Joint Plan of Action marks the first time in nearly a decade that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to specific actions that stop the advance of its nuclear program, roll back key aspects of the program, and include unprecedented access for international inspectors.  The technical understandings set forth how the provisions of the Joint Plan of Action will be implemented and verified, and the timing of implementation of its provisions.  Specifically, the technical understandings specify the actions that Iran will take to limit its enrichment capacity at Natanz and Fordow, as well as the limits on safeguarded research and development (R&D); the actions Iran will take to implement its commitments not to fuel the Arak reactor or install remaining components at the reactor; and the actions Iran will take to facilitate International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification and confirmation that Iran is fully implementing these commitments.  The understandings also clarify the reciprocal actions that the P5+1 and the EU will take.
Between now and January 20th, Iran, the IAEA, the United States, and our international partners, will take the remaining required steps to begin implementing the Joint Plan of Action on that date. 
What Iran Has Committed To Do
On January 20th, the IAEA will report on the current status of Iran’s nuclear program, and particularly on its uranium enrichment program and the Arak reactor.  The IAEA will also report on several specific steps that Iran has committed to take by or on the first day of implementation, including:
·         Halting production of near-20% enriched uranium and disabling the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran has been using to produce it.
·         Starting to dilute half of the near-20% enriched uranium stockpile that is in hexafluoride form, and continuing to convert the rest to oxide form not suitable for further enrichment.
In addition, over the course of the Joint Plan of Action, the IAEA will verify that Iran is:
·         Not enriching uranium in roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, including all next generation centrifuges.
·         Limiting its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six-month period to stockpile centrifuges.
·         Not constructing additional enrichment facilities.
·         Not going beyond its current enrichment R&D practices.
·         Not commissioning or fueling the Arak reactor.
·         Halting the production and additional testing of fuel for the Arak reactor.
·         Not installing any additional reactor components at Arak.
·         Not transferring fuel and heavy water to the Arak reactor site.
·         Not constructing a facility capable of reprocessing.  Without reprocessing, Iran cannot separate plutonium from spent fuel.
Iran has also committed to a schedule for taking certain actions during the six-month period.  This includes:
·         Completion of dilution of half of its stockpile of near-20% uranium hexafluoride in three months, and completion of conversion of the rest of that material to oxide in six months.
·         A cap on the permitted size of Iran’s up to 5% enriched uranium stockpile at the end of the six-month period.
Verification Mechanisms
To ensure Iran is fulfilling its commitments, the IAEA will be solely responsible for verifying and confirming all nuclear-related measures, consistent with its ongoing inspection role in Iran.  In addition, the EU, P5+1 and Iran will establish a Joint Commission to work with the IAEA to monitor implementation of the Joint Plan of Action.  The Joint Commission will also work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. 
The Joint Commission will be composed of experts of the EU, P5+1 and Iran, and it will convene at least monthly to consider the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action and any issues that may arise.  Any decisions that are required on the basis of these discussions will be referred to the Political Directors of the EU, the P5+1, and Iran.
Transparency and Monitoring
Iran committed in the Joint Plan of Action to provide increased and unprecedented transparency into its nuclear program, including through more frequent and intrusive inspections as well as expanded provision of information to the IAEA.
The Iranian enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow will now be subject to daily IAEA inspector access as set out in the Joint Plan of Action (as opposed to every few weeks).  The IAEA and Iran are working to update procedures, which will permit IAEA inspectors to review surveillance information on a daily basis to shorten detection time for any Iranian non-compliance.  In addition, these facilities will continue to be subjected to a variety of other physical inspections, including scheduled and unannounced inspections. 
The Arak reactor and associated facilities will be subject to at least monthly IAEA inspections – an increase from the current inspection schedule permitting IAEA access approximately once every three months or longer. 
Iran has also agreed to provide for the first time:
  • Long-sought design information on the Arak reactor;
  • Figures to verify that centrifuge production will be dedicated to the replacement of damaged machines; and
  • Information to enable managed access at centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities, and uranium mines and mills.
These enhanced monitoring measures will enable the IAEA to provide monthly updates to the Joint Commission on the status of Iran’s implementation of its commitments and enable the international community to more quickly detect breakout or the diversion of materials to a secret program.
What the P5+1 and EU Have Committed To Do
As part of this initial step, the P5+1 and EU will provide limited, temporary, and targeted relief to Iran.  The total value of the relief is between $6 and $7 billion – a small fraction of the $100 billion in Iranian foreign exchange holdings that will continue to be blocked or restricted.  Some relief will be provided from the first day; most will be provided in installments over the span of the entire six-month period.  The relief is structured so that the overwhelming majority of the sanctions regime, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions architecture, remains in place – and sanctions will continue to be vigorously implemented throughout the six-month period. 
Once the IAEA has confirmed Iran is implementing its commitments, in return the P5+1 and EU have committed to do the following on the first day of implementation:
  • Suspend the implementation of sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports and Iran’s imports of goods and services for its automotive manufacturing sector.
  • Suspend sanctions on Iran’s import and export of gold and other precious metals, with significant limitations that prevent Iran from using its restricted assets overseas to pay for these purchases. 
  • License expeditiously the supply of spare parts and services, including inspection services, for the safety of flight of Iran’s civil aviation sector.
  • Pause efforts to further reduce purchases of crude oil from Iran by the six economies still purchasing oil from Iran. 
  • Facilitate the establishment of a financial channel intended to support humanitarian trade that is already permitted with Iran and facilitate payments for UN obligations and tuition payments for students studying abroad.
  • Modify the thresholds for EU internal procedures for the authorization of financial transactions.
The P5+1 and EU have also committed to take certain actions to facilitate Iran’s access to $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian funds on a set schedule at regular intervals throughout the six months.  Access to a small portion of these funds will be linked to Iran’s progress in completing the dilution process for near-20% enriched uranium.  Iran will not have access to the final installment of the $4.2 billion until the last day of the six-month period. 
The installments will be released on the schedule below, contingent on the IAEA confirming that Iran is fulfilling its commitments.
February 1st - $550 million (installment #1)

March 1st - $450million (contingent on the IAEA confirming that Iran has completed dilution of half of the stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium it is required to dilute)

March 7th - $550 million (installment #2)

April 10th - $550 million (installment #3)

April 15th - $450million (contingent on the IAEA confirming that Iran has completed dilution of its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium it is required to dilute)

May 14th - $550 million (installment #4)

June 17th - $550 million (installment #5)

July 20th - $550million (installment #6 is on day 180) (contingent on the IAEA confirming that Iran has fulfilled all of its commitments)
A Comprehensive Solution
With this implementation plan, we have made concrete progress.  We will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.  Shortly after the Joint Plan of Action takes effect on January 20th, the United States will determine with our P5+1 partners our approach to the comprehensive solution.  Discussions with Iran will follow that coordination process.
With respect to the comprehensive solution, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.  We have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

Click here for the E.U. factsheet.



Nuclear Deal to Start January 20

            Iran and the world’s six major powers agreed to begin implementing the Geneva nuclear agreement on January 20. Iran and the so-called P5+1 —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States— had reached a historic interim agreement in November 2013. Tehran had committed to halting the most sensitive aspects of its nuclear program and allowing expanded U.N. nuclear inspections in return for modest sanctions relief. The first step towards a comprehensive deal is set to last for six months.
But Secretary of State John Kerry said negotiating a comprehensive agreement will be harder than implementing the interim deal. President Barack Obama warned members of Congress that he would veto any new sanctions that could risk derailing negotiations. And Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that passage of new U.S. sanctions would kill the Geneva deal. The following are statements by world leaders on implementing the agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
      “We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
      “On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.
      “As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.
            “Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.
            “Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
            “The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.
            “While implementation is an important step, the next phase poses a far greater challenge: negotiating a comprehensive agreement that resolves outstanding concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.
            “As the United States has made clear many times, our absolute top priority in these negotiations is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have been clear that diplomacy is our preferred path because other options carry much greater costs and risks and are less likely to provide a lasting solution.
            “We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.
            “We are clear-eyed about the even greater challenges we all face in negotiating a comprehensive agreement. These negotiations will be very difficult, but they represent the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.”
            Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement
U.S. President Barack Obama
           “Today’s agreement to implement the Joint Plan of Action announced in November marks the first time in a decade that the Islamic Republic of Iran has agreed to specific actions that halt progress on its nuclear program and roll back key parts of the program.  Beginning January 20th, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible.  Iran has agreed to limit its enrichment capability by not installing or starting up additional centrifuges or using next-generation centrifuges.  New and more frequent inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites will allow the world to verify that Iran is keeping its commitments.  Taken together, these and other steps will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
           “In return, over the next six months the United States and our P5+1 partners – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union –- will begin to implement modest relief so long as Iran fulfills its obligations and as we pursue a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear program.  Meanwhile, we will continue to vigorously enforce the broader sanctions regime, and if Iran fails to meet its commitments we will move to increase our sanctions.
           “Unprecedented sanctions and tough diplomacy helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and I’m grateful to our partners in Congress who share our goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Imposing additional sanctions now will only risk derailing our efforts to resolve this issue peacefully, and I will veto any legislation enacting new sanctions during the negotiation.
           “With today’s agreement, we have made concrete progress.  I welcome this important step forward, and we will now focus on the critical work of pursuing a comprehensive resolution that addresses our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.  I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”
           Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement
E.U. High Representative Lady Catherine Ashton
      “I am pleased to announce that outstanding issues on the implementation of the initial measures were resolved and finalized in a meeting between EEAS Deputy Secretary General Helga Schmid, acting on my behalf, and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi on 9 and 10 January in Geneva. This was subsequently endorsed by all capitals.
           “The E3/EU+3 and Iran have now reached a common understanding on the implementation modalities for a first step of 6 months of initial measures as set out in the Geneva Joint Plan of Action of 24 November 2013.
           “The technical understandings on the concrete measures to be implemented by both sides had been worked out in three rounds of intensive technical experts’ meetings of the E3/EU+3 and Iran, partly also involving the IAEA.
           “Thanks to this agreement on the implementation modalities, the foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the 6 months period have been laid. The E3/EU+3 and Iran will now start the implementation of the first step on 20 January 2014. We will ask the IAEA to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities.”
           Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs
      “Finally, the long marathon of the Geneva negotiations reached a point at which the two sides achieved a mutual understanding so that the first step based on the Geneva nuclear deal will be implemented on January 20th. This first step is inclusive of a combination of acts that the two sides will have to perform within the period of six months aimed at building trust so that we will reach the famous final step, or the comprehensive solution.
      “Based on the reached agreement, the two sides agreed to remain at the present time status, which means they would remain at the status of the previously imposed sanctions against our country, and we, too, in current status of our nuclear activities. Based on this agreement, they must not impose new unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral sanctions against our country, and in return.”
           “If the US congress wants to pressure us on new pretexts, we'd say with certainty that we won’t negotiate under pressure at all, and if new sanctions are imposed, the Geneva deal would be canceled.”
           Jan. 12, 2014 to Iranian television
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague
      “I welcome the fact that we have now reached E3+3 agreement with Iran on implementing the first step of the Joint Plan of Action agreed at Geneva on 24 November 2013. The entry into force of this agreement on 20 January is an important step towards peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, on which comprehensive negotiations will now start.”
            Jan. 12, 2014 in a statement


Photo credits: U.S. State Department, Change.gov, European External Action Service via Flickr, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, By English: Foreign and Commonwealth Office [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

White House: New Sanctions Amount to War Resolution

            On January 9, the White House warned that a new Iran sanctions bill proposed in the Senate could push the United States toward war with Iran. The “Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act” is co-sponsored by more than one-half of the 100 Senators, largely Republican but including several key Democrats. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if passed, but the legislation may get enough bipartisan support to make it veto-proof. In response, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan issued the following statement:

            This bill is in direct contradiction to the Administration’s work to peacefully resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program. We know that this proposed legislation would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations. This bill would have a negative bearing on the sanctions regime too. Let us not forget: sanctions work because we convinced our partners to take the steps that we seek. If our partners no longer believe that we are serious about finding a negotiated solution, then our sanctions regime would suffer. 
            If Congress passes this bill, it will be proactively taking an action that will make diplomacy less likely to succeed. The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution to this issue. If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.
            The President has been clear that he has a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means, before he pursues alternatives. Passing new sanctions legislation right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution.

            Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has warned that new sanctions are in violation of the Geneva agreement signed by Iran and the world’s six major powers on November 24. He said new Congressional action would kill diplomacy.
            Robert Menendez (D- New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R – Illinois) introduced the resolution on December 19, which “requires further reductions in purchases of Iranian petroleum and applies additional penalties to strategic elements of the Iranian economy, to include the engineering, mining and construction sectors.” Ten Democratic Senate committee chairs have circulated a joint letter warning that the Menendez resolution could undermine negotiations with Iran.
            The following are excerpts from the proposed bill with a link to the full text.
S. 1881
To expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose
additional sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes.
Sec. 101. Applicability of sanctions with respect to petroleum  transactions.
Sec. 102. Ineligibility for exception to certain sanctions for countries that do not reduce purchases of petroleum from Iran or of Iranian origin to a de minimis level.
Sec. 103. Imposition of sanctions with respect to ports, special economic zones, and strategic sectors of Iran.
Sec. 104. Identification of, and imposition of sanctions with respect to, certain Iranian individuals.
Sec. 105. Imposition of sanctions with respect to transactions in foreign currencies with or for certain sanctioned persons.
Sec. 106. Sense of Congress on prospective sanctions.
(b) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that--
(1) the Government of Iran must not be allowed to developor maintain nuclear weapon capabilities;
(2) all instruments of power and influence of the United States should remain on the table to prevent the Government of Iran from developing nuclear weapon capabilities;
(3) the Government of Iran does not have an absolute or inherent right to enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and technologies under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of  Nuclear Weapons, done at Washington, London, and Moscow July 1, 1968, and entered into force March 5, 1970 (commonly known as the ``Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty'');
(4) the imposition of sanctions under this Act, including sanctions on exports of petroleum from Iran, is triggered by violations by Iran of any interim or final agreement regarding its nuclear program, failure to reach a final agreement in a discernible time frame, or the breach of other conditions described in section 301;
(5) if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence;
(6) the United States should continue to impose sanctions on the Government of Iran and its terrorist proxies for their continuing sponsorship of terrorism; and
(7) the United States should continue to impose sanctions on the Government of Iran for--
(A) its ongoing abuses of human rights; and
(B) its actions in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
It is the sense of Congress that, if additional sanctions are imposed pursuant to this Act and the Government of Iran continues to pursue an illicit nuclear weapons program, Congress should pursue additional stringent sanctions on Iran, such as sanctions on entities providing the Government of Iran access to assets of the Government of Iran held outside Iran, sanctions on Iran's energy sector, including its natural gas sector, and sanctions on entities providing certain underwriting, insurance, or reinsurance to the Government of Iran.
Click here for the full text.

Photos: People, Places and Political Sites

      Robin Wright captured a cross section of images from Iran on the eve of the revolution’s 35th anniversary. The pictures include exclusive images from inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran as well as leading ayatollahs and some of the many visual contradictions in the Islamic Republic. Click on the arrows to see the next slide in each series.


The Holy Shrine in Qom


The Clerics


The Girls of Iran


The Boys of Iran


U.S. Embassy in Tehran


Lingering Impact of the Iran-Iraq War


The Economy


The Art of Iran


Finding Marilyn Monroe in Tehran


The Billboards (and contradictions) of Iran



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