On July 13, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna to check the progress of nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. “We have some very significant gaps still, so we need to if we can make some progress,” Kerry told the press. He met with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shortly after arriving. The two leaders met a few more times before Kerry spoke at a press conference and departed on July 15. “There has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues,” said Kerry.
The two sides were aiming to reach an agreement by the July 20 deadline, rather than extend the interim agreement for another six months. Kerry briefed President Obama on the talks, who said he would consult with Congress to determine if an extension is necessary. The following are remarks by Kerry and senior administration officials on the talks.
President Barack Obama
“John updated me on the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Over the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year -- halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material. Meanwhile, we are working with our P5-plus-1 partners and Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement that assures us that Iran’s program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won’t obtain a nuclear weapon.
“Based on consultations with Secretary Kerry and my national security team, it’s clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward. But as we approach a deadline of July 20th under the interim deal, there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do. So over the next few days, we’ll continue consulting with Congress -- and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners –- as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations.”
July 16, 2014 in a press briefing
Secretary of State John Kerry
SECRETARY KERRY: In today’s world, it’s an understatement to say that diplomacy is difficult. But diplomacy is our preference for meeting the challenges that we do face all over the world, knowing even as we do that solutions are rarely perfect and nor do they all come at once. But that has never deterred us from pursuing the diplomatic course, and that is exactly what we are committed to doing and doing now.
President Obama has made it a top priority to pursue a diplomatic effort to see if we can reach an agreement that assures that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. In that effort, we have built a broad coalition of countries, including our P5+1 colleagues, to ensure that the international community is speaking with one voice. Despite the difficulties of these negotiations, I am confident that the United States and our partners in the P5+1 remain as squarely focused as ever on testing whether or not we can find a negotiated solution to this most pressing international security imperative.
Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
In these conversations, and indeed over the last almost six months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made progress. We have all kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have all continued to negotiate in good faith. But after my conversations here with both Iran and with our P5+1 partners in particular, it is clear that we still have more work to do.
Our team will continue working very hard to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns. I am returning to Washington today to consult with President Obama and with leaders in Congress over the coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted, based on the progress we’ve made and how things are going.
As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues. And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.
I want to underscore: These goals are not incompatible. In fact, they are realistic. But we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula. There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful. So we are going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to work with the belief that there is a way forward.
But – and this is a critical point – while there is a path forward, Iran needs to choose to take it. And our goal now is to determine the precise contours of that path, and I believe we can.
QUESTION: How confident are you that you can get an agreement by July 20th? And if we’re talking about an extension, have you any idea how long that could be?
There was a report in The New York Times today, an interview with Foreign Minister Zarif, in which he suggested that the Iranians have proposed freezing their nuclear program for a few years in return for being treated later as a country with a peaceful nuclear civilian energy program. Does this meet any U.S. demands or is this one of the real gaps that you’re still talking about?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the issue of July 20th, yes, it’s obviously still on the table and we’re still working, and we’re going to continue to work. The team will be here. They’ll continue to meet. And I will, as I said, go back to Washington to talk to the President and also our team back there in order to assess where we think we are with respect to the progress that we have made.
As I said, we have made progress, and there is work still to do, and we believe there is a path forward, so let’s see what happens in the next hours and days. I’m obviously prepared to come back here if we have the team say to me that there’s a reason to do so, but I have no plans to do so as I leave to go back to Washington to consult with the President.
With respect to the issue of the – what was in The New York Times and the question of a gap or no gap, I am definitively not going to negotiate in public. I’m not going to comment on any stories with respect to substance one way or the other. The real negotiation is not going to be done in the public eye; it’s going to be done in the private meetings that we’re having, and it is being done there. And I might add these are tough negotiations. The Iranians are strong in their positions. They understand what their needs are, we understand what ours are. Both are working in good faith to try to find a way forward.
And as I said, I think we’ve made some progress. Obviously, there’s more work to do. We’ll assess where we are in the next few days and make judgments at that point in time. And we don’t do this, obviously, exclusively. We are part of a team, the P5+1. Our partners, all of them, weigh in equally in this decision, and we need to be consulting as we go forward.
QUESTION: The Supreme Leader of Iran last week had a major speech in which he spoke of Iran needing the equivalent of what some see is as many as 190,000 older-generation centrifuges over the long term, a kind of massive industrial scale. How did you respond – how did you react to this speech? And in your meetings here with the Iranians, have you seen any sign of a new and substantial flexibility on the Iranian side since your Washington Post op-ed two weeks ago, enough progress that could, in theory, justify an extension?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the Supreme Leader’s speech on the 190,000 centrifuges, that’s not a new figure. It didn’t come as a surprise to me or to others. And what it is is it’s a reflection of Iran’s current ambitions with respect to a nuclear power program, and it reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power. It is not something, I think, that’s meant – and I think it was framed that way, I believe, in the speech.
Obviously, that’s not – I’m not going to get into what we’re talking about in numbers or whatever, but we have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment. And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.
Now I do want Iran to understand, I want the Supreme Leader to know, that the United States believes that Iran has a right to have a peaceful nuclear program under Article IV of the NPT – there’s no question about that – a peaceful program. And what we are now working on is: How do you guarantee that what they do have is in fact purely peaceful and that it adheres to the stated intentions of the Supreme Leader and other leaders of Iran never to have a nuclear weapon?
Now, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa. We take that very seriously. The fatwa issued by a cleric is an extremely powerful statement about intent. But it is our need to codify it. We can’t take any declaration because that’s not what a negotiation nor a nuclear agreement is about. It’s about verifiable, specific steps by which parties that have disagreed can agree that they know each of them what they’re doing and how they’re living up to their responsibilities. And that’s what we’re seeing in this particular effort.
So Iran can have a peaceful nuclear program and they know how to get there. It’s by living up to the demands of the international community, the United Nations Security Council; the IAEA questions need to be answered, the additional protocol needs to be adhered to; and a specific set of verification and transparency measures need to be put in place among other things that make the promises real. That’s the nature. It’s not specific to Iran. Any country would be in the same place and need to do the same thing, as they do with respect to any kind of agreement.
QUESTION: Many Iranians wonder – I would like to be very specific – why the U.S. and the world powers would not accept Iran maintain, say, 10,000 centrifuges. And here, I’m not haggling over numbers, but if the other terms of the deal are secure, numbers capped, degree of enrichment low, inspections intrusive – if trust is an issue, they say, both Iran and the United States have their checkered history when it comes to nuclear capability.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said earlier, when you start asking about specific numbers of centrifuges and so forth, you get into a zone of public disclosure that is just not helpful to the negotiations at this point in time. So I’m not going to talk about a specific number, what number might work, not work, what we will accept, won’t accept. All of those questions belong at the negotiating table, and that’s where they are.
But let me just say, in general terms, this is not an issue of trust. This is an issue of factual process by which you can verify on a day-to-day basis what is happening. Now why do we need to do that? Why are there P5+1 at the table? Why is China joining with Russia, joining with the United States, joining with Germany, France, and Britain – all of them together at the table demanding the same thing, as well as the rest of the world through the United Nations Security Council and the resolutions?
This is not a fabricated issue. The reason that trust has to be built and a process of transparency and accountability has to be created is because over the years, a secret program has been pursued in a deep, under-the-ground, mountaintop facility that was concealed for a long time until it was discovered, and levels of enrichment have been going on on a regular basis and serious questions raised about weaponization in that context.
Now we’re working to answer those questions, and I want to – Foreign Minister Zarif is a tough negotiator. He knows how to fight for what he is fighting for. But he’s been clear, as we have been clear, about what we need to do to try to arrive at a fair, reasonable way to meet both parties’ rights and interests in this situation. And I believe that, as I said, we’ve made progress, and I think both of us can see ways in which we could make further progress and hopefully answer those questions.
But I’m not going to get into why Iran might have done that or who pushed who in what direction or what mistakes were made in the past. You can go back to the 1950s and find lots of things that have happened that have given rise to the relationship we’re in today. What we want to do is try and see if that’s changeable, put that to the test. The first test is to answer the questions and come up with a formula that says to the world this is a peaceful nuclear program, and it cannot be used to make weapons and we know that to a certainty. The test is: Can we know whether or not Iran is able to and is or might be building a nuclear weapon?
Now we’re going to continue to do what we are doing here. We’re going to work hard to try to find this agreement. This is not just important to the United States, Iran, and the P5; it’s important to the world. And it is important for us to try to work hard in order to see if we can find success, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
“I am delighted to be here in Vienna and look forward to my to meeting with my colleagues in the 3+1 in order to discuss where we are in the negotiations, get caught up. And obviously, we have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress, and I really look forward to a very substantive and important set of meetings and dialogues.
“And we obviously… this is a very important subject. It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon, that their program is peaceful. That’s what we’re here to try to achieve and I hope we can make some progress. Thank you all.”
July 13, 2014 to the press in Vienna
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest
“The Iranians have engaged in the comprehensive negotiations in a serious way and demonstrated some flexibility in the context of those negotiations. But on some key issues so far, Iran has yet to be able to make the decisions that are necessary to prove to the world that their nuclear programme is explicitly peaceful.
“That ultimately is where the significant gaps remain. Secretary Kerry is there to, again, assess the seriousness with which the Iranians are pursuing these negotiations, and will return to make recommendations to the president about the way forward.
“To its credit, Iran has defied the expectations of some by actually fulfilling the obligations under the Joint Plan of Action. The Joint Plan of Action was predicated on Iran taking some steps to roll back their nuclear programme in exchange for some limited relief of their sanctions regime that's been imposed.”
Background briefing by senior U.S. administrational officials
July 12, 2014
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve had a mix of plenary sessions, expert meetings, bilaterals with all of the other countries here, and of course with Iran, and coordination sessions that are led by the High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton, who coordinates and leads these talks. Today, I want to say a few words about what we expect from Secretary Kerry’s visit here tomorrow and about what’s happened in the talks during this round, and then of course, I and my colleagues would be happy to take your questions.
The Secretary is coming to Vienna for consultations with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, EU High Representative Ashton, and other foreign ministers from the P5+1, whose schedules allowed them to be here at this time. He will talk with them about where the negotiations currently stand. He obviously will meet with Foreign Minister Zarif and assess Iran’s willingness to make the critical choices it will need to make if we have a chance of getting a comprehensive agreement. And he will see if progress can be made on the issues where significant gaps do remain.
He will then make recommendations to President Obama about next steps in the negotiation. You all have probably noticed there isn’t a whole lot of time left until July 20th, and this is clearly a critical time in these talks. So in many ways, you could consider this a check-in point by the ministers and all of the delegations, even those who cannot bring ministers here because of scheduling conflicts – the BRICS conference is about to start at the beginning of next week – are sending high-level representatives to add to their delegations.
A few additional points: We remain very united in the P5+1. Everybody has their national positions, of course, but when it comes to having one negotiating position for going forward, we have stayed quite united. The sessions that will take place tomorrow are not meant to be a formal ministerial. There will not be a formal plenary session, but rather, a chance for people to check in with their teams on the ground and with each other. As I noted, the Russians and Chinese both have important business to attend to in Brazil this week at the BRIC summit, which complicated their efforts to come, but are sending senior diplomats to Vienna for these meetings as well. So while I know it’s easy to write a story that the P5+1 is in danger of not being united, it’s simply not true.
Second, in terms of what has happened thus far in this round, we’ve made some progress. But on some key issues, Iran has not moved from their – from our perspective – unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their program is exclusively peaceful, which, as I’ve said to you many times, we have two objectives: that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon and that they assure the international community that their program is exclusively peaceful. And so far, on some key issues, Iran has yet to be able to take the decisions that are necessary to meet those objectives.
All you had to do is listen this week to the public comments coming from some in Iran’s leadership to see that we are still very far apart on some issues, and obviously, on enrichment capacity. The numbers we’ve seen them putting out publicly go far beyond their current program, and we’ve been clear that in order to get an agreement, that their current program would have to be significantly reduced. So this is one of the gaps, although, of course, not the only one that remains, but a key and core one.
And finally, as we said the other day, it’s worth remembering that this is not a negotiating – a negotiation between two equal parties. It’s certainly a negotiation among sovereign nations and we respect the sovereignty of every country. This is not, however, a mediation. This is the international community assessing whether Iran can come in line with its numerous nonproliferation obligations, to which it has been in violation for years.
QUESTION: We were told that what the Iranian leadership says in public is something you are not focusing on as much as what you hear in the negotiation room. Are you being told the same numbers you referred to in the negotiation room as well?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: What I think I’ll say to that is there is no question that we have heard about Iran’s aspirations for its nuclear program in very specific terms and very specific numbers. And that remains far from a significant reduction in their current program.
QUESTION: You say the Secretary’s coming here to gauge Iran’s willingness. Isn’t it getting a bit late in the day to gauge Iran’s willingness? And secondly, you said Iran has to make some very tough choices. The Iranian delegation has consistently said also that the United States needs to make some tough choices. Do you agree with that, and if so, what are the tough choices you have to make?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think that the United States has already made a number of very tough choices, and I think that’s evident in the Joint Plan of Action that was negotiated among the P5+1. In that, the President of the United States took, I think, a very bold decision to say that we would be open to discussing a very limited enrichment program to meet the practical needs of Iran.
He also agreed that we could sit down and negotiate a Joint Plan of Action, that we would make some limited sanctions relief available to Iran and some of their frozen assets in bank accounts around the world if they would take very concrete steps. Iran chose to take those very concrete steps, and we followed through in what our obligations were.
So I think the good news of the JPOA, it shows that in fact we can each take difficult decisions to try to reach an agreement. Now we’re talking about a comprehensive agreement and we’re talking about the very heart of Iran showing the international community, not just with its words, because of course we have the Supreme Leader’s fatwa and saying that Iran has never had an interest in having a nuclear weapon. Now we have to have concrete actions that are verifiable.
I think that everyone at the table has come with ideas. We have presented a number of proposals, concepts, ways forward, that we think are very thoughtful and acknowledge the tremendous scientific knowhow that Iran has, but at the same time really does mean that Iran must address the international community’s concerns. We’re talking about a decade of violations of obligations under the NPT, such that the UN Security Council has passed four resolutions and required international sanctions that have been imposed by the international community. So that’s really what’s at stake here.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And I would just add that it is certainly late in the day in these negotiations, but it’s not too late for Iran to take the steps that are necessary to give the international community confidence.
QUESTION: Is one of the issues that will be discussed a possible extension of the talks? And, I mean, how workable is this? It does seem that some in Congress – we had a story yesterday that it seems like it would probably go through.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: The ministers are not coming here to discuss an extension. The ministers are coming here, as we said in the statement about Secretary Kerry’s coming, to assess the situation, to see whether more substantive progress can be made while they are here, to see that in fact we get done everything we can possibly get done. If, at the end of that process, we have not come to a final agreement, then we will assess where we are and the Secretary will make recommendations to the President about next steps.
We have always said that if we can make some significant progress, that if we thought we needed some additional time, we thought the world would probably want us to take it, and to get to a final agreement. But what the ministers are coming here to do is to assess whether, in fact, we have made and are making and will make, in the eight days remaining, enough progress that it warrants, indeed, us continuing that work if we cannot get to a final agreement. And as you’ve noted, it’s difficult to do – not impossible, but it is difficult to do.
We have always said we would work till the last moment. We have always said so. I don’t know whether [Senior U.S. Administration Official Two] wants to add something, particularly about Congress, because some of us have lived here in Vienna now for 10 days. Some people got to go home for a few days, but that person did spend some time chatting with members of Congress, so you might want to add something.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: First, as we’ve made clear, the Secretary, Secretary Kerry, is focused on determining whether a comprehensive agreement can be reached in the next few days, and that’s going to be his focus when he’s here.
Now if that can’t happen by July 20th, both the Administration and Congress are on the same page, which is that we obviously have to consider all of our options. But we – it would be hard to contemplate things like an extension without seeing significant progress on key issues. And that’s what we’re going to be looking for here over the next few days. We’re going to be trying to get to a comprehensive agreement and then we’ll think about everything else as we go forward. And in that, I think Congress and the Administration are approaching this with the same perspective.
QUESTION: The statement that you made earlier about the public statements that have been made by Iranian officials, I assume you were referring to the Supreme Leader’s comments a few days ago. What they seem to reflect was a fundamental argument by the Iranians that they still need to be able to move to industrial production; if not right away, then I think in this – in the talk, he said five years from now or sometime after that.
As you look at the fundamental differences right now – not the numbers, but the fundamental differences – is there still a view among the Iranians that industrial production is their key goal? And is it still your view that only, as you said, a very limited enrichment capability for a long period of time is your key goal?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely, our key goal is a very limited enrichment program. As you know, we believe that what would be best is no indigenous enrichment program at all, but if there is to be one, then it should be limited for a very long duration of time. And the United States is on record worldwide, believing that no one should have an industrial-scale enrichment program, that it’s not necessary, that fuel is available on the open market. You all know that we negotiate 123 agreements all over the world about what people’s programs – nuclear programs are going to look like, their civil-nuclear program, how they’re going to provide fuel for those programs.
QUESTION: But we have one in the United States.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Indeed we do, but we are one of the original NPT states, so for non-nuclear weapons NPT states, we have worked worldwide to really limit those who have indigenous enrichment.
Now the reality is that, as well, as you know, President Obama has been a leader in the world to decrease the number of nuclear weapons in the world, including our own, and hopes that sometime in the future – maybe not in my lifetime, I hope in the President’s lifetime – that in fact, we have no nuclear weapons.
So I don’t – I think where we are, in this negotiation, is we believe that right now, we are at a place where Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations and its obligations to the UN Security Council. For some period of time, they’re going to have to have a very limited, very constrained program that will have inspections, verification, monitoring, and a lot of limitations on what they can do. At the end of that duration, they will be, like any other non-weapons – nuclear non-weapons NPT state and will make their own choices.
QUESTION: When you said a limited period of time, how long a period of time?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve said always double digits, a long time.
QUESTION: Can we take from that that Mr. Kerry will be leaving on Monday definitely, or is that still in play?
And secondly, there’s a lot of focus on the enrichment issue, but you said at the beginning that there are some issues that have made some progress. I know you don’t know – I certainly know you’re not going to sit here and list them off for us, but can you give us a sense of whether you feel that those other issues are really – that we all know are really beginning to come together to take shape could be turned into a deal?
And just finally, you said double digits before. Just for the sake of a clean quote, can we say that the U.S. position is asking for at least 10 years as a duration of this accord?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think it’d be better to leave it just to double digits, even though I take your point. Trying to get a number is a good thing, but I’m not going to give you one.
Second, in terms of the Secretary’s schedule, those of you who have had the pleasure of traveling with the Secretary of State, for me to try to predict his schedule would be an insane feat on my part. I don’t think that, had you asked me in the beginning of the week whether the Secretary of State was going to be in Kabul today, I would have said yes. So if you ask me if he’s going to leave here – come here tomorrow and leave here tomorrow, I can’t tell you a thing.
All I can tell you is that the ministers are coming here for a check-in. They are not coming here to be the negotiators, to work text. They are here to see if they can help move substantial progress on the areas in which there are some serious gaps. And I think you all understand well enough, in a negotiation, that when parties know ministers are showing up, they’re going to wait to see what can be accomplished. And we hope that something can be further accomplished, because as [Senior U.S. Administration Official Two] pointed out, we need to see some additional progress in this.
As to areas in where there has been progress, there has been some. There are areas in which the gaps have narrowed so that one can see if everything else fell in place, that that would probably fall in place. Remember we’ve talked about this Rubik’s Cube concept 100 times here. You can have every piece fall in place and that last one won’t go into the tumbler until everything else is in place. So one can see that there are places where there’s progress and you might get that final step taken if something else falls into place as well. It’s a negotiation.
QUESTION: You all have had the chance to be in the room with the Iranians when they do show flexibility or there has been progress after weeks and weeks or – I’m sure of arguing over differences. Can you just give us a sense, not on the specific substance necessarily, but how do you see movement with them?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, look, when we came in here, we did not have a text. We have a text that we are working off of. There are brackets that remain in that text. But nonetheless, it has made some progress moving forward. Some of the brackets have been taken out. I think Baroness Ashton and her deputy Helga Schmid have worked constantly, very difficult. The Iranians are very good negotiators. Their English is quite good and we – as you all know, this is done in English and words mean a great deal. My lawyers tell me that every single day as we look over this.
QUESTION: Because so much of what they’re arguing for in terms of industrial-scale enrichment and not having to be dependent on a foreign power to provide fuel for their power program at some point is a pride. And I noticed you using language today talking about their technological achievements. Are there ways that, recognizing their research potential or right, would be able to compensate them for a longer delay in this thing that’s very important to them?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll see. As I said, there are a number of ideas that are on the table, a number of ways forward. We’ve also talked in this room that this is a package; this is not about any one element. All the pieces have to come together to reach the objectives of making sure they can’t acquire a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful. I think that what we are talking about here is how you get from where we are today to normal, and that’s going to be a long duration of time because of past history, under a lot of constraints, but there will come a point, if Iran does make these choices, where they will be free to be like any other non-nuclear NPT state, non-nuclear weapons NPT state.
QUESTION: My question is on the role of Congress, and I know I’ve asked you this before, but they don’t seem entirely thrilled with what they’ve gotten. No surprise there. They sent this week a letter; 344 members of Congress signed onto it. And what they said was that there is no such thing as nuclear-related sanctions that are designated in the laws that they’ve passed. Now, your colleague, Catherine Ashton, has said that her mandate is to negotiate specifically on only nuclear-related issues and that that doesn’t include ballistic missile issues or technology, it doesn’t include certainly terrorism-related matters. Do you agree with her on that and do you read the law differently? Is your understanding that the U.S. does demarcate nuclear-related sanctions?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: What we have said to Iran and what was discussed in the Joint Plan of Action where we promised, working within our system which has checks and balances, that we would not – we would work with our Congress so that there would be no new nuclear-related sanctions, and we make a distinction between nuclear-related sanctions and sanctions on human rights, sanctions on terrorism, and they – those will all stay in place.
We are in consultations with Congress. Congress has played a very critical role in this negotiation. I do not believe that Iran would be at the table except for the leadership that Congress has shown on their concerns for these issues and for the sanctions that were passed in addition to the very critical UN Security Council resolutions which passed international sanctions, and the European Union’s actions, and individual countries’ actions around sanctions. I think Congress plays in that regard a critical and leadership role, and we see them as very important partners.
Both the letter from the House and the letter from the Senate really talk about wanting to ensure that partnership continues, that Congress will play an active role in anything that comes out of these negotiations, and we would absolutely agree that they will.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add that I think we agree with Congress that sanctions are not an end in themselves; they’re a means to an end. And many of the sanctions that Congress has passed in partnership and consultation with the Administration have been designed to help produce progress at the negotiating table. We believe the Joint Plan of Action was the result of the strategy we developed. We believe that progress in these talks can be connected to that as well.
To say that there is not one single sanction that can be lifted in the context of a nuclear agreement, of course, is not a plausible position. Equally true to say that all sanctions get lifted in the context of a nuclear agreement is not plausible because there are, as my colleague said, terrorism and human rights-related sanctions that are quite specifically targeted at other behavior of Iran.
So ultimately, this is going to be a negotiation within these talks, and then consultation with Congress to determine what are effectively nuclear-related sanctions and what are not. And we believe that we can find a way forward on that that works for everybody.
QUESTION: If the Secretary determines that Iran is not willing to go ahead, is that the moment when you begin discussing an extension, or does his determination mean the show has ended and there’s no purpose in further discussions?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think we’ve made some progress, and I think that we hope that the ministers being here will build on that progress, and that we can keep moving forward toward that comprehensive agreement. And as I said, it’s not impossible to complete it by the end of these eight days – difficult. But we certainly want to make substantial progress such that we can make an assessment about the best way forward from there.
I don’t want to prejudge what the Secretary will think or say or what he will recommend to the President of the United States. So this is the check-in. He will have direct discussions with Baroness Ashton. He will have direct discussions with his ministerial partners in the P5+1, with the senior diplomats who are coming here from Russia and China, and with Minister Zarif. And then he will assess where we are and give those of us who are here to continue negotiations – and I would include my colleagues who are sitting up here as well – as I think most of you know, Deputy Burns has returned here as well.
So we will see what is possible and then we will decide what’s the best way forward. But right now, we are entirely focused on seeing what additional substantive progress can be made.
QUESTION: I want to go back, unfortunately, to digits. You mentioned in your comments that Supreme Leader’s words last week basically shows where the gap is, and I wanted to see his position on the timeframe that Iran should have met its practical needs in its nuclear program, is also where it shows you the gap in your positions, or this timeframe that he mentions – not now, not two years, not five years – is something that can help you in the process of negotiations?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, there is no question that those statements that talk about what Iran’s aspirations are, but not necessarily aspirations that are met today, are – is important. And we certainly have noted that and we hope that that will be considered in working through an agreement for a period of time that is necessary to provide the assurances that the international community is looking for.