Iran Nuclear Plan: U.S. Officials React

The following are excerpted statements by U.S. officials on the nuclear framework that was announced by the world’s six major powers and Iran on April 2.

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken
Question: Iran has not formally signed it. The foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is already questioning the U.S. description of it. Do you have a real deal here?
Blinken: We do, but we have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do over the next couple of months. You’ll recall that we have until June 30 under the extension of the interim agreement to see if we can complete comprehensive deal. And what we have now in place is the foundation for that deal, agreement on the basic core elements. And it will now take a couple of months to see if we can put this in a comprehensive document that has all the details in it. That’s going to take some work.
Question: We should mention that for a decade, Iran’s breakout time, the time needed to make a bomb, will be extended. There will be inspections for well over a decade. There are many other provisions. Sanctions are listed. There’s a provision though that reduces the amount of uranium, enriched uranium that Iran will have on hand. It’s not clear to me though if uranium is being taken out of Iran or left in Iran. What’s happening to it?
Blinken: Well you are exactly Steve. And that aspect of the deal is critical. Right now Iran has about 10,000 kilograms of up to five percent low-enriched uranium. It has committed to reduce that stockpile to up to 300 kilograms. In other words, a cut of about 98 percent of its stockpile. What happens to the remainder of that stockpile is still up for decision. It could be shipped out of the country, it could be diluted. But the bottom line is that that stockpile goes way way way down and as a result, the breakout time, the time it would take Iran to rush to enough material for a bomb goes way up to a year or more.
Question: But the stockpile might remain in Iran somewhere you’re saying.
Blinken: Well it is possible it could, but diluted so that it can’t be used to make material for a bomb.
Question: The next question, which of course is on the minds of Israel and many critics of this deal is that at the end of 10 years, Iran would be poised to resume its nuclear activities. Is that the case?

Blinken: Well, first of all, if there’s no deal, Iran could do that tomorrow. And indeed probably would do that tomorrow. If the deal collapsed for whatever reason, there is a good chance Iran would rush to build more and more centrifuges and get its capacity up to industrial strength. What happens under this deal, assuming it gets completed over the next several months, is that for at least ten years, if Iran does not do that, the various limitations on its program, many of them will extend beyond ten years. For example, 15 years to cap its stockpile. It won’t enrich about 3.5 percent. No new enrichment facility. So everything would be at this Natanz facility. Meanwhile, the extraordinarily intrusive inspections that are part of this deal would continue for 20 or 25 years. So this is phased over an extensive period of time.
Question: So at the end of 10 years, it is not like everything stops. That’s your point.
Blinken: Correct, and indeed the inspection piece is absolutely critical. And as the president described it yesterday, what we’ve achieved with the inspections with the access is unprecedented.
Question: If Iran violates this deal, next year, two years from now, would the sanctions automatically snap back, the sanctions that are going to be lifted.
Blinken: Yes, there is going to be automaticity in the so-called snapback. If there is a violation or if Iran reneges on its commitments, what we’d be doing is suspending – not ending – the sanctions. They would only be suspended, first of all, if Iran makes good on its commitments under the deal. And then, because they would be suspended, not ended, if Iran violated the deal, they could be snapped back.
—April 3, 2015 on NPR’s “Morning Edition


Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

"The key parameters established today lay the groundwork for achieving the P5+1’s objective of blocking Iran’s four pathways to nuclear weapons: the two uranium pathways through Iran’s Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities, the plutonium pathway at the Arak reactor, and the covert pathway.
America’s leading nuclear experts at the Department of Energy and its national labs and sites were involved throughout these negotiations, evaluating and developing technical proposals to help define negotiating positions in support of the US delegation. As a result, I’m pleased to say that we are very confident in the technical underpinnings of this arrangement.   
Iran’s current breakout timeline of two to three months will be expanded to a minimum of a year, for at least the next ten years.  Its stockpile of enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent, leaving it with just 300 kg of 3.67 percent uranium, for the next 15 years.
Iran’s installed centrifuges will be reduced by two thirds, leaving it with just over 5,000 operating IR-1 centrifuges at the outset of the agreement at Natanz – its only enrichment facilty. The underground facility at Fordow will be converted to an international physics center and stable isotope production facility with no enrichment, no enrichment R&D, and no fissile material. 
Iran’s enrichment R&D will be significantly limited relative to their current activity and plans, during the first 10 years.  In particular, full cascades of its most advanced centrifuges will not operate in the first ten years.
Iran’s plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon, the Arak research reactor, will be redesigned to minimize plutonium production. The P5+1will apply the highest technical standards to finalizing with Iran the new reactor design that does not produce weapons-grade plutonium under normal use, with a plutonium pathway breakout timeline of several years. Iran will ship all Arak used spent reactor fuel out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor. For at least 15 years, Iran will not reprocess any used nuclear fuel or conduct any reprocessing R&D – steps necessary to extracting plutonium for use in a weapon – and Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors – the types often associated with producing weapons-grade plutonium.
Finally, Iran has agreed to extraordinary and comprehensive transparency and IAEA inspections, providing an effective deterrence against covert pathways to a bomb. The enhanced transparency measures will build confidence in Iran’s peaceful intentions for a quarter century and beyond.
I want to thank the Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Salehi (MIT PhD ’77) for his partnership in discussing the draft technical dimensions that will be essential to reaching a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). I deeply appreciate his professionalism, candor, and unwavering commitment to analytical rigor.
However, our work is not done until the JCPoA is finalized by the end of June, and we begin implementation. We will work closely with our P5+1 partners, as well as in consultation with Members of Congress and the scientific community, to ensure Iran’s nuclear program will remain exclusively peaceful.
Certainly, there will be many opinions expressed about the merits of this understanding. I want to be clear – the world should also judge the scientific and technical dimensions of the parameters for a JCPoA as they contribute to halting the possible proliferation of nuclear weapons.  I, along with my DOE colleagues, am committed to seeing this to a successful conclusion."
—April 2, 2015 in a statement

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew

“From the outset of this Administration, President Obama has made preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon a national security priority of the highest order.  To address this threat, we have worked together with Congress and our international partners to establish and implement the most comprehensive set of economic sanctions in history.  These sanctions helped bring Iran to the negotiating table to engage in serious diplomacy to address the world’s concerns about its nuclear program. 
Today, we and our partners in the P5+1 and the EU have reached a major milestone: a political framework for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program that will close off every pathway for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and will ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
In return, the P5+1 have agreed to relieve nuclear-related sanctions on Iran in phases, subject to verification that Iran has taken agreed steps with respect to its nuclear program.  This is not a framework based on trust, it is based on unmatched verification.
If Iran fails to abide by its commitments, the sanctions relief is reversible.  And we will continue to use all of our available tools, including sanctions, to counter Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and destabilizing regional activities. 
While this is an historic step, as the technical negotiations with Iran continue, it is important to underscore that an agreement will only be reached if it meets the President’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  If we are able to reach such an agreement, the Treasury Department looks forward to supporting a strong and lasting understanding that will settle one of our greatest security threats.”
—April 2, 2015 in a statement

Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes
Sanctions will be “snapped back into place if the Iranians don’t comply.”
“There are significant limitations on the nuclear program and with inspections if they break the deal we will know very quickly and then we will be able to make decisions about what to do,”
“We believe its best frankly if we don’t have to exercise that [military] option and Iran complies with this type of good comprehensive deal, but certainly if there was a violation we would have all options to consider in response to a violation.”
—April 6, 2015 in an interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV, according to the press
Senior Administration Officials in a Background Press Call
Question: I'm trying to get at whether you have any detailed agreements on the speed with which IAEA inspectors could actually get to any site in the country that they wanted to, so that Iran could not cover things up before their arrival.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Okay, so, indeed, of course the most important thing will be the additional protocol which Iran will undertake provisionally, virtually at the start of a joint comprehensive plan of action.  And that will provide access in ways that has not been available in Iran in any particular time in the past.
But in addition, we also are working on putting together a mechanism to ensure access at those points where, in fact, there is a disagreement about whether someone should be able to -- whether the IAEA should be able to get access into a site. 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The only thing I’d add is related to the ability to detect a covert path in a potential site is the fact that the inspections do cover the full supply chain of the Iranian nuclear program, as my colleague described. That will allow us to have the ability to detect any accounting that doesn’t add up.  So, for instance, it provides you with a much greater ability than we’ve had before to determine if materials are being diverted because we're going to be looking across the supply chain of that program, which would also inform our ability to uncover any covert site that would need to be inspected.
QUESTION:  I wanted to talk a little bit about the policy that you mentioned.  The President spoke about how he was going to speak with the leaders this afternoon, and he also kind of said in no uncertain terms what would happen if Congress killed the deal, as he said.  What is your approach to them going to be?... 
And secondarily, I just wanted to ask you about a tweet that Foreign Minister Zarif just put out where he was a little bit critical of the factsheets that were put out.  He said, there was no need to spin using factsheets so early on.  And the statement that he made and that the EU representative made were pretty general, followed up by a lot of specifics in your factsheet.  And I wondered if the issuance of those specifics was part of the agreement that you made, or if you just went ahead and did it yourselves?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, with respect to Congress, our principal objective over the course of the last year and a half almost since we finalized the Joint Plan of Action has been to give our negotiators the time and space to get a deal.  And that involved ensuring that there were not new sanctions passed during the time of the negotiation that would have derailed the process.  And in the context of the Corker bill that ensured -- that involved the President making very clear that we need to give our negotiating team the space to get a deal, and then have a discussion with Congress about the best way for them to exercise an oversight role.
In that context, the President has made clear he would veto new sanctions legislation during the negotiation, and he made clear he would veto the existing Corker legislation during negotiation.  The legislation also has a range of provisions that go beyond an up or down vote, as well.  And again, we think it’s best for members of Congress to take a look at the framework and then give the space to negotiate the final details between now and June.
All of that said, as the President noted today we have a great deal of respect for the role that Congress has played over the year in Iran policy.  There’s a lot of bipartisan interest.  The sanctions regime was built in part with congressional involvement, combined with our diplomacy.  And we do believe that it’s important for Congress to play an oversight role as we continue these negotiations and finalize a deal.
And so in the first instance, we will be briefing very extensively members of Congress.  The President is calling the leadership today.  But we're also making calls to many different members of Congress.  We’ve been in very regular touch with many dozens of members of Congress over the course of the last several days already.  And again, going forward, now that we have this framework, we’ll be able to brief in greater detail the type of deal that we're aiming to finalize in June. 
And again, we're open to discussions with Congress about how it plays an oversight role as we finalize that deal.  Certainly, Congress will have to take a vote during the duration of the agreement in order to lift sanctions.  And again, in the intervening period between now and June, we look forward to consultations with Congress on how they can provide oversight.
I’d note that Senator Corker put out a statement today making clear his intention to take a hard look at these details. And we’re certainly going to be reaching out to Senator Corker and going through with him what’s in the framework and again finding constructive ways for Congress to engage.
What would not be constructive is legislative action that essentially undercuts our ability to get the deal done and that is disruptive to the negotiations.  That's been our case all along here:  Wait and see what the deal is and then we can determine the best way to continue to engage Congress as it plays its oversight role, but do not do something that could derail the negotiation and leave the United States getting blamed for the collapse of talks in a manner that would deny us this opportunity to resolve the issue diplomatically, and also potentially undercut the international cooperation that's necessary for the sanctions regime.
With respect to Foreign Minister Zarif, the one thing I’d say is if you look at the statement from the EU and Iran that Foreign Minister Mogherini and Foreign Minister Zarif read, it addresses the different elements of the framework.  And essentially what our factsheet does is provide a number of the details that underpin those elements. 
So the discussions of the Arak reaction and of enrichment and of transparency and of sanctions, these are all addressed in the statement.  And what we're doing is providing the details that underpin the framework that was referenced by Foreign Minister Mogherini and Foreign Minister Zarif. 
And in any negotiation, obviously, there are issues that are of particular importance to different parties to the negotiation, and I’m sure Foreign Minister Zarif will represent that this is a deal that will enable Iran the ability to access peaceful nuclear energy and he will describe that.  We will describe why this is a deal that in that context cuts off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and has the type of transparency and inspections that can allow us to verify that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon.  So we're obviously approaching this challenge with different national objectives, but it's the same deal that will accomplish those objectives.
QUESTION: I had a question about the President said in the Rose Garden that success is not guaranteed on June 30th.  And I guess I'm wondering what, besides Congress who you clearly think could derail success, what else do you think threatens success?  Is it Iran?  Is it allies in the region?  Do you believe that the Supreme Leader has signed off on this deal?  Do you have any insight into where that stands?
And secondly, could you give us a little bit more detail on the color?  When did the President finally sign off on this deal? What was he doing this morning?  Obviously he was making a number of calls, but can you tell us what’s on the pizza, as they say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So I'll just take the second question first.  As I said, the President, on the 31st in that secure videoconference, had a good understanding of what the remaining issues were and gave I think broad guidance to the negotiating team.  Then there were a number of times over the course of the last several days when he has been on the phone directly with Secretary Kerry, or when Susan Rice would update the President based on her conversations with Secretary Kerry. 
Yesterday afternoon, I believe, the President spoke to Secretary Kerry and got a good understanding of how close we were and what the final issues were.  But they weren't closed out.  And then last night, as I said, Susan Rice was able to update him at around midnight.  He was in his residence, took that call to provide some final guidance on what would be necessary to get this done.  And his direction was, people know what my bottom lines are and I have trust in the negotiating team out there that by the time I wake up they could come back and have this closed out.
Then this morning, after working all night here in support of the team in Switzerland, the President got the full update in his Presidential Daily Briefing this morning around 10 o’clock about the final contours of what the deal was.  At that point, he communicated that he was certainly comfortable with the deal that was coming together.  And so at that point, essentially, he had signed off on what was going to become the framework.  And then before the final plenary among the ministers, the President received word that this was indeed going to be closed out.
Today the President called, in order, Prime Minister Cameron, then Chancellor Merkel, and then President Hollande.  He thought it was very important to speak to our close allies in the negotiation to take stock of what had been accomplished and to reiterate that we're going to need to stay coordinated going forward. 
Then he spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia.  He extended an invitation to the leaders of the GCC to come to Camp David this spring in what will be a very important summit meeting. 
It relates somewhat to your first question, Carol, which is that we do understand that our partners in the region, the Gulf countries and of course, our close friend and ally, Israel, have very profound concerns about Iran’s policies in the region in support of terrorism, its destabilizing activities.  And I think the President wants to make very clear in his engagement, including at the summit with the GCC countries, that we have the commitment of the security of our partners and we're going to be discussing with them ways that we can reaffirm that commitment.
He will be speaking to Prime Minister Netanyahu today.  And while of course, they’ve publicly differed on this negotiation, and before, the finalization of the Joint Plan of Action in November of 2013, the security commitment to Israel is ironclad. And so he'll also be discussing not just the deal but how do we continue to enhance our security cooperation as the new Israeli government is formed.
He’s speaking to the leaders of Congress today, and he'll, I'm sure, be speaking to additional foreign counterparts going forward.
So, look, there’s no foreign policy issue that he’s spent more time on in terms of over the last several weeks.  I'd say over the course of his presidency other than the war in Afghanistan and terrorism, Iran is an issue that he’s spent more time on than any other issue.  The first negotiation that he had on this started in 2009, so he’s very familiar with the Iranian nuclear program and all the different elements.  So, again, he approaches it from that perspective.
On your first question, I'll leave it to my counterparts.  The only thing I'd just say is that we recognize we have a framework that lays out what the parameters of a deal will be.  That's hugely important because we know what the objectives are; we know what has been agreed to that can lead to an implementation of a deal.  But there are very important technical details that have to be filled in between now and the end of June.
It took extraordinary political will to get to where we are today and it will take more political will from all the parties to close this out by the end of June.  So we operate under the principle that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed in terms of the details.  And there certainly will be more negotiations to come. 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  … I would also say that we all tend to think of Iran as a sort of one-person country, that whatever the Supreme Leader says goes.  Actually, Iran has politics -- not quite like our politics, but they have politics.  They have hard-liners, they have people who want to see the deal gone.  They have the IRGC force interests that has probably done pretty well during the sanctions regime.  They have people who have made money because of the sanctions regime on the black market.  They have the politics of their people who would like to be able to afford things and have a future for their kids.  And those politics come into the negotiating space that Iran has, just as our politics --which are quite different and obviously transparent and open and democratic -- in ways every single day.
Sometimes they get used tactically and may not be quite what we're told they are.  But there is no doubt that Javad Zarif will have to sell this deal just like we will.  And his task is not simple and a given, nor is ours.  This is very complicated.  A lot of this is hard to talk about to the American people.  Obviously, I thought the President and the Secretary did a terrific job beginning that conversation -- or continuing, actually, continuing that conversation with the American people. But this is tough stuff to put your mind around, and most people just want to make sure that they stay safe.
QUESTION: How soon will sanctions against Iran be lifted?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, sanctions don't get lifted -- let me let my colleagues take up that question. 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think one of the things Secretary Kerry actually said today in his press conference -- one of the core principles of sanctions we will be working out as we proceed through the coming months is kind of the scheduling.  But the main principle is that we'll be matching our sanctions with the completion of all of Iran’s major nuclear steps.  So, in other words, like the Secretary said, they can do it as fast as they want, and it's in fact in our interests if they do it as fast as they can and get their breakout timeline extended as quickly as possible.
We could, of course, respond just as quickly and provide sanctions relief.  But the real important thing is that we link it up to the major components that make out their breakout timeline.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The scheme on the U.S. sanctions side is exactly as my colleague was describing where we've been provided with guidance from the start that sanctions relief would have to be proportionate and only upon verified steps by the Iranians -- that the relief would only come when the steps that they had taken were commensurate with the relief that we were offering and that it be reversible.
Those have been our principles from the start and those have been fully held up in the framework.  So what we're going to see in the coming weeks and months after the details are worked out is steps by Iran to be confirmed by the IAEA and sanctions relief coming upon the heels of that.
April 2, 2015

Photo credit: Moniz by via Flickr Commons (public domain as U.S. Government work)