European Ambassadors Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

“This agreement is a success, “ asserted European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan in defense of the Iran nuclear deal on Monday. “[It] needs to be maintained, nurtured, needs to be strictly scrutinized to make sure that everyone, and that includes all the people who signed up to this agreement, deliver on their commitments in order to make sure that this global public good of nonproliferation in the Middle East region is maintained.”
 
With just three weeks before the Trump Administration’s decision whether to certify if Iran has been compliant with the nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Atlantic Council hosted a panel of top European ambassadors to discuss their government’s views of the pending decision.
 
French Ambassador Gérard Araud called renegotiating the JCPOA “a nonstarter” and reaffirmed that France is willing to engage in further negotiations with Iran regarding their activities in the region, but would not reopen the nuclear deal. “We are willing to work with our allies here and in the region to be up to the Iranian challenge,” but “walking away from the deal would have serious consequences.”
 
Peter Wittig, the German Ambassador, cautioned those who are discussing withdrawing from the deal against undermining the West’s credibility in future diplomatic negotiations. “What kind of signal would this send to countries like North Korea? It would send the signal that diplomacy is not reliable, that you can’t trust diplomatic agreements,” he explained. “To those who advocate to walk away from this agreement, [you] have to come up with an alternative of how to prevent, in a peaceful way, resuming of Iranian nuclear and military capabilities,” something Germany does not believe is possible.
 
Sir Kim Darroch of the United Kingdom highlighted how the deal makes his country safer, and that “as long as the Iranians continue to comply with it, in the view of the IAEA, we will continue to support it.” He put a particular emphasis on the fact that representatives from the UK have been speaking avidly to members of Congress regarding this deal, trying to convince their counterparts to continue to comply with the deal by explaining how it is beneficial to the national security of the UK. Amb. Darroch also told the audience how May and Trump spent nearly half of a fifty-minute long meeting discussing ways to push back on Iran’s non-nuclear behavior, though still asserted that the deal should be maintained. According to Darroch, “In a sense, this administration has changed the climate on Iran…But let’s keep the JCPOA.”
 
Another important aspect of the deal, particularly for the Europeans, was the normalization of trade with Iran. Should Trump choose not to re-certify the deal, Congress will have the power to re-impose new sanctions on Iran under expedited procedure, which would risk breaking the already fragile business ties Iran has started to rebuild since the sanctions were lifted last year. When asked if this would affect European companies dealing with Iran, each ambassador reiterated their commitment to the deal, expounding on how the resuming of normalized trade with Iran has helped each of their economies. “I have no doubt that if this scenario materializes, which it’s not clear it will, the European Union will act to protect the legitimate interests of our companies with all the means at our disposal,” said Ambassador O’Sullivan.
 
Amb. Araud reminded the audience that when the US originally imposed sanctions on Iran and forced their European allies to comply, “the burden of the sanctions has been carried by the Europeans,” who, up to that point, had enjoyed a healthy trade relationship with Iran. Now that the sanctions have been lifted, he insisted that France was merely returning to the relationship they had before, a natural result of the deal. If the situation were to devolve into a crisis, Araud said that French companies would “[base] their decision on the basis of their own calculations of their interest.”
 

Amb. Wittig went a step further and explained the history of Iran and German relations, dating back to the Qajar dynasty. He voiced his support for the French Ambassador’s remarks regarding the normalization of trade with Iran, and described how German companies “have suffered billions and billions and billions of dollars because we imposed sanctions [on Iran].” He believes that through the normalization of economic ties with Iran and bringing them into the international economic fold, Western power can strengthen their political with the country to improve Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world over time. “Iran is a very vibrant civil society. It’s a very young society… It’s a country with a future, and we want this Iran to gradually move to our values, to our world view.”

 

The Iran Deal Worked

– Here’s How to Make It Even More Effective


A year has passed since diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany) defied conventional wisdom and struck a deal aimed at both preventing Iran from getting the bomb and preventing it from getting bombed. At the time, the deal’s detractors were apoplectic; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake” that would pave the way for Iran to obtain a bomb. But the world has not come to an end. Iran is not the hegemon of the Middle East, Israel can still be found on the map, and Washington and Tehran still define each other as enemies. These days, voices such as Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, criticize the deal for having changed too little.
 
But a closer examination shows that it has had a profound impact on the region’s geopolitical dynamics. Only four years ago, the Iranian nuclear program was consistently referred to as the United States’ number one national security threat. Senior U.S. officials put the risk of an Israeli attack on Iran at 50–50, a confrontation that the United States would quickly get dragged into. A war that was even more destabilizing than the Iraq invasion was not just a possibility; it seemed likely.
 
Today, however, the talk of war is gone. Even the hawkish government of Netanyahu has gone silent on the matter. Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, a hawk in his own right, announced a few weeks ago that “at this point, and in the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel. Thus it is fitting that the leadership of the country stop scaring the citizenry and stop giving them the feeling that we are standing before a second Holocaust.”
 
Moreover, members of the U.S. Congress who have recently visited Israel have also noted that Israelis are no longer shifting every conversation to a discussion about the Iranian nuclear threat. “I can’t count how many times I, and many members of Congress, were urgently and passionately informed that negotiation with the Iranian menace was wishful thinking and the height of folly,” Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) wrote after a recent visit to Israel. “And now? Nothing.”
 
The nuclear deal has thus halted the march toward war and Iran’s progress toward a bomb. And that certainly qualifies as significant change. To continue to argue that Israel and the region are not safer as a result of the deal would be to contend that Iran’s nuclear program was never a threat to begin with. That is a not a position that the Likud government in Israel can argue with a straight face.
 
Other criticisms of the deal centered on predictions that Iran would not honor the agreement. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran is abiding by its obligations under the deal. Also not borne out have been prophecies that Iran’s regional policies would radicalize, that the deal would, as The Heritage Foundation’s James Phillips wrote, “project [American] weakness that could further encourage Iranian hardliners.” To be sure, Washington continues to view many of Iran’s regional activities as unhelpful and destabilizing, but those activities have not increased as a result of the nuclear deal. Hezbollah and Tehran’s posture toward Israel has, for instance, not become more aggressive than it already was. Any changes that have occurred have been rooted in regional developments—the Syrian civil war or the Saudi assault on Yemen—rather than the nuclear deal. Important developments in Syria, such as Russia’s broader entry into the war or Iran’s maneuvers on the ground, are divorced from the nuclear deal and directly tied to developments on the ground in Syria.
 
If anything, as the European Union’s foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini, told me last December, the deal paved the way for renewed dialogue on Syria, which offers a glimmer of hope to end the carnage there. “What we have now in Syria—talks bringing together all the different actors (and we have it now and not last year)—is because we had the [nuclear] deal,” she told me. And last month, U.S. Secretary Of State John Kerry stated that Iran has been “helpful” in Iraq, where both the United States and Iran are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).
 
It is undisputable that outside of the nuclear deal, the relationship between the United States and Iran has shifted significantly since the breakthrough. That became abundantly clear in January, when ten American sailors drifted into Iranian waters and were apprehended by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps—and were then promptly released. An incident that in the pre-deal era likely would have taken months, if not years, to resolve was now settled in 16 hours. Direct diplomacy between Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif combined with a mutual desire to resolve the matter quickly made all the difference. The two countries had embarked on a path that could transform their relationship, and both were too committed to that path to allow the incident to fester. “I was afraid that this [the sailors’ arrest] would jeopardize everything, not just the implementation [of the JCPOA],” Zarif admitted to me.
 
But for relations to improve beyond the nuclear deal, moderate elements on both sides need to be strengthened by the deal. That is one area where the skepticism of the critics may have been justified. Rather than seeing the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gain momentum after the deal, the pushback from Iranian hardliners has been fierce. Those officials couldn’t prevent Iran from signing the agreement, but they could create enough problems to halt any effort to translate the nuclear deal into a broader opening to the United States. A swift crackdown against individuals and entities seeking to build bridges between Iran and the West had its intended effect: Confidence that the nuclear deal would usher in a new era for U.S.-Iranian relations quickly plummeted.
 
Moreover, challenges to sanctions relief has given hardline opponents of the deal in Iran a boost. Their critique of the agreement—that the United States is not trustworthy—seems to ring true since no major banks have been willing to enter the Iranian market. The banks’ hesitation, in turn, is mainly rooted in the fear that after the U.S. presidential elections, Washington’s political commitment to the deal will wane.
 
Neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton have signaled any desire to continue down the Obama administration’s path with Iran in general. Clinton has vowed to uphold the deal, but neither she nor Trump have made it crystal clear that they will protect the agreement from new congressional sanctions or other measures that would cause the deal’s collapse.
 
Clinton’s team has signaled that its priority will be to rebuild relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia and restore those allies’ confidence that the United States will counter Iran in the region. Meanwhile, the uncertainty around a Trump presidency needs no explaining. As a result, many banks deem the risk of entering the Iranian market too high due to the political challenges on the U.S. side. That has left Iranians without much in the way of sanctions relief, which is in turn costing Rouhani politically.
 
In other words, although the deal has been remarkably successful in achieving its explicit goals—halting, and even reversing, Iran’s nuclear advances while avoiding a costly and risky war with Tehran—its true value in rebalancing U.S. relationships in the Persian Gulf and creating a broader opening with Iran may be squandered once Obama leaves office. If Obama’s successor returns to the United States’ old ways in the Middle East while hardliners in Tehran stymie outreach to the West, these unique and historic opportunities will be wasted.
 
This piece originally appeared in Foreign Affairs.

Memo: Deal vs No Deal

Deal-NoDeal-NIAC

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A good nuclear deal with Iran would expand limitations and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and decreasing the risk of a costly, counterproductive war. From recent reports, such a deal could be within reach in the weeks ahead.

Rejecting a good deal would be a historic mistake that would greatly increase the likelihood of both war and an Iranian nuclear weapon. If negotiations fall apart neither sanctions nor military strikes can erase Iran’s nuclear know-how nor cut off Iran’s pathways to a bomb. 

The following memo details measures that are likely to be included in a strong comprehensive nuclear deal, contrasted with the likely alternatives if negotiations fail or a final nuclear deal is rejected.

Enrichment Capacity

Deal:

Iran’s “break out” capability under a likely deal would be one year. That is, Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile would be constrained, increasing the time it would take Iran to be able to enrich sufficient uranium for a single nuclear bomb to approximately twelve months. These limitations would likely include:

  • A cap on enrichment at the 5% level.
  • Clear limits on the number of centrifuges in operation and installed at various sites.
  • A reduction in the number of centrifuges installed and in operation (Iran currently has approximately 20,000 centrifuges installed and 10,200 operating) and/or a reduction in the enrichment capacity of those centrifuges.
  • Sharp limits on the size of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and exports of the uranium stockpile to Russia for fabrication into nuclear fuel.
  • Conversion of the deeply-buried Fordow facility from a large-scale enrichment site to a research and development site.
  • Limits on the research and development of advanced centrifuges.

No Deal:

Iran would likely expand its nuclear program, eventually bringing its breakout closer to an undetectable period of just weeks or days. This expansion could include:

  • A return to 20% enrichment, or even to the 60% level as the Iranian parliament proposed in 2013 in response to S.1881.
  • Iran bringing online nearly 10,000 additional centrifuges, which are installed but not operating at its enrichment facilities, in short order.
  • An ever-expanding stockpile of low-enriched uranium, medium-enriched uranium or even highly-enriched uranium.
  • Continued and expanded enrichment at the deeply-buried Fordow site.
  • No limitations on the research and development of advanced centrifuges, potentially resulting in industrial scale enrichment with those centrifuges.

Inspections & Verification

Deal:

Enhanced monitoring and verification by the IAEA will be able to detect any overt Iranian violations of the agreement and any potential covert nuclear activities. Enhanced inspection and verification measures under a final deal would include:

  • The continuation of daily monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities, established under the JPOA.
  • Implementation and eventual ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, ensuring rapid access to suspect sites in order to detect potential covert nuclear activities.
  • Intensified monitoring of the Arak reactor, Iran’s centrifuge production facilities, uranium mines and other nuclear facilities in order to guard against diversion of nuclear material and technology to covert nuclear sites.
  • Cooperation with and eventual resolution of the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.

No Deal:

Without a deal, monitoring and verification of the Iranian nuclear program drastically diminish as Iran’s nuclear program expands.

  • Instead of daily monitoring as established under the JPOA, IAEA inspectors are permitted into enrichment facilities every week or two, at best.
  • No implementation or ratification of the Additional Protocol, ensuring that the IAEA has limited access to any suspect sites.
  • Limited or no monitoring of the Arak reactor, Iran’s centrifuge production facilities, uranium mines and other nuclear facilities, increasing the risk that nuclear material or technology is diverted to a covert facility without detection.
  • No resolution of the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear activities.

The Arak Reactor

Deal:

Iran would not be able to maintain a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon because of limitations and enhanced oversight of the Arak reactor.

  • A good deal would alter the power level and/or the design of the Arak reactor to drastically reduce the annual plutonium output of the facility.
  • Iran would be prohibited from building a reprocessing facility under the deal, which would be necessary to separate the plutonium from spent reactor fuel in order for it to be used in nuclear weapons. Inspections would verify the absence of such a facility as well as the non-diversion of the spent fuel to a covert site.

No Deal:

Without a final nuclear deal, Iran would un-freeze nuclear work at the Arak reactor and race toward a potential plutonium pathway for a bomb.

  • Without alterations to Arak under a final deal, the reactor could come online in a year and shortly produce sufficient plutonium for multiple nuclear weapons every year, though the plutonium would still need to be separated at a yet-to-be-constructed reprocessing facility.
  • International inspectors would have reduced or no access to the Arak site, increasing concerns that the spent fuel produced by the facility could be diverted to a covert reprocessing facility.
  • Arak’s advancement could speed up calls for war. Israel bombed similar facilities before they came online in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2007.

Regional and Human Rights Benefits

Deal:

A nuclear deal with Iran would offer substantial benefits to United States interests in the region as well as to human rights inside Iran. These would include:

  • Expanded opportunities for U.S.-Iran collaboration on regional security issues, including against ISIS militants and on the security situation in Afghanistan.
  • The easing and eventual lifting of nuclear sanctions that have punished the Iranian people more than the Iranian regime.
  • The empowerment of moderates over hardliners in Iran and increased domestic political space for Iranians to push for improvements to the human rights situation.

No Deal:

Rejecting a deal would end hopes for greater regional coordination and undermine moderate political forces inside Iran. This would include:

  • Pressing regional security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan would no longer be an area for potential coordination, but instead a theater for competition and escalation.
  • The plight of the Iranian people under nuclear-related sanctions would intensify.
  • Hardliners would regain the upper hand in Iran’s political elite, dashing hopes for moderation and an improvement in Iranian human rights.

Iran Deal More Than a Nuclear Issue

Kerry, Zarif, Ashton

The dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme was never just about centrifuges or breakout capabilities. It has always been a symptom of a larger geopolitical contest between the West (primarily the United States) and Iran, with roots that predate the 1979 Iranian revolution.

But the West and Iran have very different narratives about their conflict, with the Iranians casting it as their quest for independence and self-sufficiency while fending off Western attempts to subjugate the country. Yet the narrative of the conflict is distinct from that of resolving the conflict – and here, the two sides face even greater obstacles.

The latter narrative is a contest over who determined the terms of the solution – who gave in and who came out on top. This is not a mere Iranian obsession. It is equally important to the US and its allies. After all, if the conflict is rooted in Iran’s challenge to the US’s regional dominance, Washington will reject the narrative of Iran successfully forcing the world’s sole superpower to accommodate Tehran.

Consequently, the language US and European Union officials deploy reveals a near infatuation with establishing the West’s dominance over Iran. It is a language of Western power and control. The West decides the terms of the conversation, as well as the terms of the outcome.

The Iranians know what they have to do,” is a phrase often aired by Western officials.. Or in the words of US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, “There are steps they need to take to meet their international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, and the ball is in their court.”

The language and attitude trickles into the news media coverage, where reports describe the West debating what Iran will be “permitted” to do and not do, or the extent of a nuclear program it will be “allowed” to maintain. Iran is essentially at the mercy of the West, the narrative suggests.

The language does not depict a negotiation, but rather court proceedings where Iran is the transgressing party and the US and its allies are both the prosecutor and judge.

As such, it is Iran’s obligation to prove its innocence. “What Iran needs to do is prove to the international community that it’s not building a military nuclear program,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Michael Mann said last year at the height of the negotiations. The onus is on Iran, the language signals. It is Iran’s responsibility to “act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over their nuclear program”, Psaki recently stated.

Moreover, in its role as both prosecutor and judge, the West positions itself as the spokesperson for the entire international community. “It is now up to Iran to decide whether they are looking for a way to cooperate with the international community or if they want to remain in isolation,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier commented in July.

This language further accentuates Iran’s isolation and the moral strength of the West, backed by the entire international community. Of course, given that the West’s negotiators are, with China and Russia, representatives of the UN Security Council plus Germany, there is validity to this interpretation. The Iranians, however, counter by pointing to the support they have received from the nonaligned movement, which constitutes a majority of the states in the international community.

Tehran, in turn, is equally obsessed with a narrative that restores Iran’s dignity by displaying its successful defiance against attempts – real or imagined – to dominate it.

The Iranian narrative centers on resistance. When the parties extended the deadline for the negotiations in November, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended the decision by casting it as a victory over a Western attempt at forcing Iran to surrender. “In the nuclear issue,” he said, “America and colonial European countries got together and did their best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees, but they could not do so – and they will not be able to do so.”

Iran’s leaders espouse the idea that the nuclear issue is nothing but a pretext for the West to oppress Iran, subjugate it and prevent it from reaching its full potential. Ayatollah Khamenei often refers to the nuclear issue as an “excuse” to prevent Iranian progress. It is a narrative that builds on long-standing perceptions in Iran about Western intentions based on the country’s experience with European colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So according to this narrative, Western pressure is not because of Iranian policies or behavior, but because West desires to dominate Iran. Resisting subjugation, in turn, means restoring Iran’s dignity.

The concept of dignity is central in the narrative of the Iranian revolution as a whole. The revolution was about restoring the Iranian people’s dignity against a repressive monarchical regime imposed by and supported by the US. Throughout his speeches, Khamenei has repeatedly emphasized that upholding the nation’s and the revolution’s dignity is paramount.

“Whenever the Islamic Republic backed down against America and Europe, they grew more insolent, and whenever the Islamic Republic insisted on its revolutionary slogans and principles, the dignity of the Islamic Republic was increased,” Khamenei said in 2011. While many world leaders would measure the success of their country and tenure by focusing on the economy or societal progress, Khamenei habitually offers updates on the state of the Iranian nation’s dignity internationally.

Dignity in turn is restored by resisting pressure and standing up to the “bullying of the West”. Or as Khamenei would put it, “Our problem is with the US government’s bullying and excessive demands.”

The negotiations are a victory for Iran in and of themselves because the West has been forced to come to the negotiating table (the George W Bush administration initially refused to negotiate with Iran).

“European officials are still stuck in the bullying mindset of the colonial 19th century, but they will face many problems in the face of the resistance of the Iranian nation and officials,” he said the day after the European Union toughened sanctions against Iran in 2011.

Furthermore, Tehran harps on the idea that Iran seeks a fair agreement without excessive demands from the Western side. The agreement, according to Tehran, has to be balanced and based on logic. “We accept rational words; we accept fair and sensible agreements. But if there are bullying and excessive demands, no we won’t accept,” Khamenei reiterated after the November round of talks.

The emphasis on logic, fairness and rationality has political significance. A nuclear agreement based on these principles is consequently not based on the power of the negotiating parties. These principles level the playing field for Iran and neutralize the West’s superiority in terms of military and economic power.

By rejecting strength as a basis for the solution, Iran believes it will have achieved what no other Middle East player has thus far: force the West to meet it half-way and deal with it on an equal basis. That’s the win Iran is looking for – one that restores its sense of dignity. If you are in Iran, that’s the narrative you want coming out of the negotiations.

But contrary to Tehran and Washington’s efforts to find a win-win solution, their narratives remain fundamentally win-lose. A narrative celebrating a compromise as a win is yet to emerge on either side. At some point, a compromise on centrifuges and enrichment may be reached. But finding a middle ground between the Iranian and Western narratives on the negotiations may prove a harder nut to crack.

 

This article was originally published in Middle East Eye.

Strong Congressional Support for Extension to Iran Negotiations

Several key voices on Capitol Hill have already weighed in with their support of an extension to nuclear negotiations with Iran, including eight members of the House of Representatives that issued a strong joint statement.

Below is a list of quotes from lawmakers that favor an extension:

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee:

“While I had hoped that we would have been able to reach a final deal, I support the extension of the interim deal that maintains a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program and makes progress towards a final deal. The President has made it abundantly clear through his words as well as his actions, that under his leadership the United States will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.  I firmly support that goal, which is why I support the extension of negotiations.”

“Forcing an outcome that falls short of our goals or walking away from negotiations at this point in time would not be wise.”

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA):

“I welcome the news that American, Iranian, and P5+1 negotiators will extend their talks until June 30, 2015 with the hope of organizing a framework as early as March.  U.S.- Iranian relations have markedly improved since negotiations began one year ago; it is imperative we maintain that positive momentum.

Many in Congress will see this as the end of the road, the signal to toughen up already crippling sanctions. That would be the wrong move, a slap in the face to a year’s worth of hard fought and honest negotiations by U.S. diplomats. Worse still, it could prompt Iran to drive its nuclear program back under ground, bringing us right back to the perilous situation we were faced with one year ago.”

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“I support the decision to extend nuclear talks with Iran. To this point, the interim agreement reached a year ago has been a net plus as it has maintained the tough sanctions regime, limited Iran’s uranium enrichment and provided inspectors with expanded access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. The extension keeps that interim agreement in place while negotiations continue. But our goal is and should be a comprehensive agreement that ensures Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, and because such an agreement is apparently within reach, it is in the interests of the United States and our partners in this endeavor to pursue it.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus:

“Today’s extension is evidence of how far the United States and Iran have come since these negotiations started.  The investment in patient diplomacy made by both countries is yielding significant progress. Iran has already complied with the requirements in the Joint Plan of Action and reduced their capacity to build a nuclear weapon. We are closer than we have ever been to reaching a peaceful agreement and we can’t give up now. I call on Congress to support President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the P5+1 negotiators to close this deal.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):

“The current framework agreement with Iran is actively reducing Iran’s nuclear program, delaying ‘break out’ capacity, and providing inspections and verification to prevent the advancement of their nuclear program. This extension continues these important restrictions and safeguards while moving us toward a long-term deal that will support our national security and global peace. This extension creates the diplomatic space for that deal to be achieved.”

Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI):

“Diplomacy is the only viable path to prevent a nuclear Iran. According to a recent CNN poll, 76 percent of Americans support direct diplomacy as part of a strategy to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Americans know that military confrontation—the only alternative to diplomacy—would be, in this instance, counterproductive and carry unacceptable costs in terms of lives and treasure. Congress must support President Obama’s continuing efforts to obtain a strong and verifiable agreement to peacefully prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world’s most volatile region.”

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA):

“I know it’s difficult to remain patient, but with a historic agreement within our reach, patience is required. I believe it is far better to take a bit more time to get a strong verifiable agreement than to have no agreement or a weak one. I urge all sides to demonstrate the political will, flexibility and courage to get the job done, and done well. I will continue to follow this issue closely.”

 Rep. David Price (D-NC):

“I am encouraged by today’s news from Vienna. This extension means that the negotiations will continue under the terms of the existing Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which has verifiably frozen and rolled back Iran’s nuclear program over the past year. While I shared the administration’s hope that the talks would yield a final agreement by now, the fact is that another extension is vastly preferable to a return to the pre-JPOA status quo — or worse.  Instead of rushing to declare the talks a failure — or taking actions to derail them altogether — my colleagues in Congress should do everything possible to support the continuation of negotiations and progress toward a final, comprehensive agreement.”

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA):

“It is welcome news that the U.S. and Iranian diplomats have agreed to stay at the negotiating table by extending talks. While some of my colleagues have objected to negotiations with Iran, it must be noted that thanks to these historic diplomatic efforts the world is further from a nuclear-armed Iran, and the risk of an eventual war over this issue. Now more than ever is the time to commit ourselves to diplomacy. We know the outcome of a rush to war. Too many hardline members and members-elect are already opposing a deal, emboldening hardliners in Iran.  What the hardliners do not say, is that failure to reach a deal clears the path to war.”

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA):

“Diplomacy takes time. I continue to believe that the benefits of an eventual agreement with Iran will be worth the wait. Congress must not undermine our negotiators with unwise legislative actions.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL):

“We have seen meaningful progress since the Joint Plan of Action was agreed to in November 2013. Under this plan, Iran has down blended and stopped production of 20% enriched uranium, halted work on its Arak hard water facility, and allowed daily inspections of its enrichment facilities.  None of these achievements would be in place without the Joint Plan of Action, and we shouldn’t abandon this progress today.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

“I support the decision to continue negotiations as these talks are the only way to peacefully ensure Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.”

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilize an already-volatile region.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT):

“As long as talks continue under these conditions, it is important that the United States not be responsible for a breakdown in negotiations, which is why I believe it would be unwise for Congress to pass new sanctions legislation at this time. Iran has adhered to its commitments under the interim agreement. Imposing new sanctions now would be a violation of that agreement by the United States, opening the door for Iran to retaliate by resuming uranium enrichment to 20%, adding new and advanced centrifuges, or other dangerous and escalatory measures.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs:

“The Joint Plan of Action has proved to be a successful interim measure, and I believe some extension is appropriate to allow time and space for further negotiations. Moving forward, I expect to see demonstrable progress toward a robust deal that blocks all potential pathways to a bomb and lays out a comprehensive inspections and verification regime, with no ambiguity on the consequences should Iran cheat.”

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI):

“The negotiations, which now have been extended, will continue to be governed by an agreement that secures from Iran concessions that amount to the first meaningful limits on its nuclear program in nearly a decade.  Progress was made during this negotiating period, so I believe it’s better for our national security to continue working for an agreement and keeping the pressure on Iran, than to walk away.”

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee: 

As Chairman of the Banking Committee and author of many of the sanctions that helped force Iran to negotiate, I have urged my Senate colleagues to hold off on legislatively imposing new sanctions during ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran. While substantial progress has been made, and Iran continues to comply with its agreements, more must be done to give the US and the international community confidence they could detect and stop any move by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, either through a “breakout” using existing nuclear facilities or a “sneak out” using clandestine sites. Having Congress impose new sanctions on Iran or place unworkable timetables and conditions on negotiators now would be grossly counterproductive, potentially shattering the international coalition formed to isolate Iran and escalating toward war.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA):

“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the true path to peace.”

Sen. Angus King (I-ME):

“While the announcement of another extension is disappointing, I look forward to hearing the details of the extension from Administration officials to determine if we are on the right path to achieving our objectives. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but the issues are complex. I encourage our negotiators to stay at the table and explore every pathway to an acceptable resolution.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA):

“I support this extension because it maintains a strong sanctions regime, keeps Iran’s program frozen in place and subject to rigorous inspections, and continues talks toward a peaceful end to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, which is in the best interests of America and the world.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI):

“Members of Congress are right to remain vigilant about ensuring Iran’s full and substantiated compliance with any final deal. Anything less is non-negotiable. But we ought to refrain from taking premature legislative action during these final months that could permanently derail negotiations, undermine the tough multilateral sanctions on Iran, and lead the regime to restart the unrestricted and unmonitored nuclear program that we are determined to end.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA):

“While I remain skeptical of the regime’s intentions and mindful that they have negotiated in bad faith before, it is in our national security interest for the parties to continue their efforts towards reaching a comprehensive agreement. The Administration should work expeditiously to conclude negotiations sooner than the allotted time period; the longer we negotiate, the more sanctions relief the Iranian regime enjoys without having to make new concessions.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL):

“To put it simply, our national security interests and that of our allies are better served with this interim agreement. But it remains just that, an interim agreement, while the parties continue to find the essential elements for a long-term deal.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT):

“The agreement reached one year ago – the result of strict sanction regimes by the United States and our allies that I have supported – was a sign of real progress and has helped control Iran’s nuclear program. The extension of this system is preferable to agreeing to a bad deal or walking away empty-handed, which would threaten the future security of the United States, Israel and the region.”

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA):

“It is critical that a comprehensive and verifiable agreement be reached to halt any capacity for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. While I am disappointed that the P5+1 nations have not yet reached a permanent agreement with Iran, I do support an extension of the talks. However, it is absolutely imperative that we maintain the economic sanctions that continue to hold Iran accountable.”

Rep. Kathy Castor, (D-FL):

“While the delay in negotiations relating to Iran’s nuclear disarmament is disappointing, it is vital that the lead negotiators — United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — continue to press for a diplomatic resolution to ensure that Iran fully commits to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.”

 

The Christian Science Monitor: Iran nuclear talks, in home stretch, still face obstacles

More than 30 months of Iran nuclear talks are coming to a frenetic diplomatic climax before a Monday deadline.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met last night and today, and canceled plans to fly to Paris andTehran, respectively, for consultations. Iran and six world powers aim to limit Iran’s nuclear program – ensuring it can’t produce a nuclear weapon – in exchange for relief of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Iran Nuclear Deal Could Spell End of the War That Never Was

In less than a week, the outcome of the nuclear talks with Iran will be clear. According to one P5+1 diplomat, the possibilities — ranging from most to least likely — are an extension of the talks, a comprehensive agreement, or an agreement in principle.

Not on the menu — at least among the principals at the negotiations — is a return to the escalatory cycle that defined the past decade and threatened constantly to spill over into war. As the U.S.’s lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, remarked at a conference in Washington last month, if the talks fail, “escalation is the name of the game, on all sides, and none of that is good.” In other words, failure is not an option.

This — not surprisingly — comes as a disappointment to some in Washington. Little more than a decade after having advocated war on Iraq, many of the same personalities have sought to bring the U.S. and Iran to the precipice of military conflict. Their efforts were only narrowly averted last summer when secret negotiations in Oman yielded November’s interim agreement on the nuclear issue. Since then, President Obama’s detractors have taken aim at the talks itself, pouncing on any and all U.S. compromises as paving the way towards nuclear holocaust.

But their messaging, besides being histrionic, has been confused. In the same week where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that “the alternative to a bad deal is not war,” but more sanctions, leading U.S. hawks, Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz, wrote that the “wise[] bet is that sanctions will fail…” — at least “without other forms of coercion.”

What “other forms of coercion” did they have in mind? War, of course.

This cross-signaling bespeaks a broader problem for Washington’s warmongers: the nuclear talks have de-escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran not just on the nuclear issue, but on others as well. This has made their lives difficult because, instead of merely invoking Iran to garner support for their hard-line position, they are now forced to argue the point and to justify why turning our back on dialogue is the right approach.

Because let’s face it: Having been involved in constant negotiations with each other for the past year, the U.S. and Iran understand each other better now than at any point over the past 35 years. Moreover, with the Middle East in a turmoil never before seen, both countries have been forced to revisit a calculus that had made each other implacable enemies, incapable of cooperation. If the Middle East and the U.S.’s role in it is to be salvaged, it will have to be on the back of a broader U.S.-Iran détente.

It is a difficult point to argue. With most U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of the year and the White House prepared to put more boots-on-the-ground in Iraq — all the while U.S. fighter jets pound Islamic State outposts in Syria — the idea that the United States can open up a new front with Iran is unsound. Americans have neither the appetite for a new war nor the ability to wage one, and the empty braggadocio of U.S. hawks won’t change that fact.

That leaves U.S. hawks in the unenviable position of having to swim against the tide in U.S.-Iran relations. At a time when so many are hopeful for a peaceful resolution to this conflict – both in the United States, in Iran, and around the world – those pushing for war look and sound perverse in their efforts to thwart compromise and kill the negotiations.

Being the last, best chance the United States has at limiting Iran’s nuclear program, this pulls the thin veneer that long masked their intentions off for good. Pushing conflict with Iran has never been about the nuclear program, as much as it has about that old desire to reconfigure the Middle East via regime change. How else can we explain U.S. hard-liners’ adamant opposition to an interim deal that, by all accounts, has stalled Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade and allowed international inspectors daily access to check on Iran’s nuclear facilities? How else to explain the shrillness that greets mere letter-writing to Iran’s leader at a time when the nuclear deadline nears and the Middle East goes up in flames?

U.S. hawks are pulling no punches, because they have no more punches to pull. They recognize well enough that if a nuclear deal is cemented in the weeks ahead, their push for war is close to being all for naught.

That doesn’t mean they won’t try to spoil an agreement. Two weeks ago, Republicans swept to majorities in both houses of Congress during the mid-terms, giving U.S. hard-liners a pedestal on which to preempt a nuclear deal. Already, some members of Congress have designs on scurrying any agreement reached between the U.S. and Iran — either by preventing the president from implementing a deal or by imposing new sanctions on Iran.

However, if the White House has the wherewithal to withstand Republican-led attacks on a nuclear deal, U.S. hawks will be without any further means to advance us towards war against Iran. A nuclear agreement will take hold; both sides will adhere to their reciprocal obligations; and the world will be free of both renewed conflict and a new nuclear-weapons power.

President Obama’s legacy will then be defined not merely as bringing to a close two wars inherited from his predecessor, but as spelling the end of the war that never was. That will be — in the great scheme of things — his singular triumph in office. It will also be the last throw of cold-water on war plans a decade-in-the-making.

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

How Close is Close?

As negotiations reconvene here in Vienna, Iran and its six counterparts in the P5+1 are close to finalizing a comprehensive nuclear deal that would end over a decade of conflict. How close is close? Some P5+1 negotiators say the deal is 95 percent done – but the remaining five percent is the most difficult details. For both sides, the costs of failure are likely catastrophic. Precisely because the stakes have never been higher, it is important to nail down the sticking points and major obstacles that must be overcome. Six issues in particular are worth keeping an eye on.

Enrichment Capacity. Iran wants to maintain its 10,000 operational centrifuges and freeze centrifuge expansion for the duration of a deal. The P5+1 insists on cutting that number significantly – between 2,000 and 4,000. The sticking point is domestic politics, not science. Iran is insisting upon immediate-term enrichment levels that surpass its current needs. The P5+1 is pushing for immediate limitations that prevent Iran from enrichment levels that it does not have the technical capability to achieve. Unless both sides make the political decision to absorb and sell compromise – 5,000 to 6,000 centrifuges – the last best chance to resolve this conflict will be lost.

Sanctions Relief. The P5+1 wants to waive some sanctions and unblock frozen Iranian assets up front, while keeping banking, energy and UN sanctions in place until the deal expires. Iran insists on lifting banking and UN sanctions up front, while accepting waivers on energy sanctions for at least a few years. Iran gave more than it received in the interim nuclear deal, and is looking to collect on that investment. The P5+1 believes it must enforce oil and banking sanctions to ensure Iranian compliance. Neither position is politically feasible. A workable compromise in the first phase of a deal would continue to waive sanctions and unblock frozen Iranian assets, as well as lift bans on the SWIFT financial messaging system and Iranian banks blacklisted by the UN. To truly ensure reciprocity, the P5+1 should go a step further and begin dismantling UN sanctions. Without compromise, negotiations will fail.

Duration of the Deal. The P5+1 originally pushed for a deal lasting 20 to 25 years. Iran refused to accept anything longer than three to five years. Both sides were pursuing purely political objectives that are untenable. Two decades of treating Iranian differently than other Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories fuels rather than allays Iranian suspicions of Western intentions. But decades of mistrust cannot be undone while President Obama is still in office. Negotiations will fail unless the two sides split the difference. Today, they are closer to a politically digestible compromise – in the single digits, six to eight years – with deep, up front reciprocal concessions across the board to help sell the deal and incentivize compliance throughout its duration.

PMD Allegations. Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA regarding its past nuclear activities – particularly possible military dimensions (PMD) – remains a point of contention, but not an insurmountable one. This issue is a direct function of its negotiations with the P5+1. Assertions to the contrary are less than honest. No amount of scrubbing sites or shifting soil can remove criminalizing traces of radiation, so the question is not if Iran answers PMD questions, but rather how. The process of doing so will be outlined in any comprehensive nuclear deal, not before a deal is signed. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano acknowledged this in remarks to the Brookings Institution on November 5.

Hostile Legislators. As gaps between the two sides narrow, they both must contend with spoilers at home. In Washington, Congress is poised to pass new sanctions legislation in an effort to torpedo a deal. Obama will veto it, but with Republicans holding a majority in the House and Senate come January, Congress may override his veto. In Iran, a systemic decision has been made to resolve the nuclear issue – within reason. If Congress passes new sanctions, Iranians hardliners will respond in kind by reversing critical concessions made in the interim nuclear deal that moved Iran further away from nuclear weapons. Escalation benefits nobody at the negotiating table.

French Intransigence. Despite repeated proclamations of unity, France remains more hawkish than its P5+1 counterparts. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterpart Laurent Fabius in Paris on November 5 in an effort to get assurances that France would not try to undermine the P5+1 position like it did during negotiations in Geneva one year ago. According to some P5+1 diplomats, Kerry left Paris empty-handed. The French position matters: It holds a veto at the UN and EU, thereby making it critical to any future plan for sanctions relief that must be negotiated with Iran this week. It is unlikely France can stop a deal with Iran that other P5+1 members are satisfied with – but we will find out for sure in seven days.

An extension is a possibility, should the two sides not be able to close the gaps, but it carries its own risks. Hardliners in Congress and within Iran will have more time to throw up obstacles and wreak political havoc on the forces in both the US and Iranian administrations seeking to finalize a deal. While the gaps are few, they are significant, but the mood here in Vienna is determined.

This article was originally published in IranWire.

Direct US-Iran Banking Channel Could Cement Nuclear Deal

As nuclear talks enter a crucial period ahead of the Nov. 24 deadline, one of the incentives the Barack Obama administration is dangling before Iran is a direct banking channel between a US and an Iranian financial institution, Al-Monitor has learned.

In Vienna, U.S. and Iran Working to Beat the Clock

Talks“The Iran nuclear negotiations are on life support. Iranian officials are trying to leverage regional instability to win more favorable terms in a nuclear deal. Iran’s stubbornness has caused it to miss the last best chance at finalizing a nuclear deal by the November 24th deadline.” These are the latest arguments circulating in Washington, D.C. The noise coming from Tehran about red lines is equally unhelpful. But here in Vienna, one can’t help but notice a stark difference between this rhetoric and reality.

Thousands of miles away from the spin factories in Washington and Tehran, negotiators are working diligently to seal the deal. To hear the Europeans tell it, a deal is within reach.

“[Russian foreign minister] Lavrov was telling the truth. The deal is 95 percent done, but the remaining 5 percent is the most difficult details,” a Western diplomat told me. “When you see the various drafts of the agreement we’re putting together, it’s obvious we’ve come a long way — further than many thought possible. Relatively speaking, very little disputed language remains in brackets.”

As the negotiations reconvene, all eyes are on three unresolved issues. That’s right — only three. Numerous issues that have long been contentious — including Iran’s underground enrichment facility, its heavy water reactor, and inspections and monitoring, among others — have been largely hammered out. So what does that leave for negotiators to hash out?

The size and contours of Iran’s enrichment program under a comprehensive deal remains the most challenging point of contention. To date, Washington has insisted Tehran cut the number of its operational centrifuges to 1,500 — down from 10,000. Not surprisingly, Iran rejects this push and prefers to keep its 10,000 operational centrifuges in return for a freeze on centrifuge expansion for the duration of a deal. The problem with these respective positions is that neither is firmly grounded in science. Instead, domestic politics have thus far dictated what the two sides insist upon at the negotiating table. This is not a recipe for success.

Centrifuge numbers are a dead end because they are largely arbitrary. It is more useful to focus on Separative Work Unit (SWU) count, which can vary even if centrifuge numbers remain constant. But even if SWU is used as the proper metric, bridging the gap will require compromise and creativity from both sides. Washington is insisting upon immediate-term limitations that prevent Tehran from enrichment levels that it cannot yet achieve. For its part, Iran is pushing for immediate-term enrichment levels that surpass its current needs.

Both sides must make the political decision to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle. It would be the biggest foreign policy blunder since the Iraq war to abandon a technically feasible nuclear deal for domestic political reasons. A good deal will cement Iran’s 2003 decision that nuclear weapons are not in its interest — and make it impossible for Iran to pursue nuclear weapons without being swiftly caught.

The U.S. and Iran also disagree over the duration of any comprehensive nuclear deal. It is worth noting both sides agree that Iran will adhere to limitations on its enrichment program for a mutually agreed upon period of time as a trust-building exercise. But after that period of time, Iran is free to act as any other member of the non-proliferation treaty. And therein lies the problem — precisely because the U.S. and Iran have trust issues, they disagree on how much time should pass before Tehran takes off the shackles.

Washington wants a deal to last for at least 20 years, while Tehran prefers three to five years — preferably while Rouhani is still in office and can reap the domestic political benefits of ending the nuclear crisis. Accepting the other side’s terms would be political suicide for Iranian and American politicians. Again, both sides are using politics rather than science to dictate their respective positions. Decades of mistrust cannot be undone in three to five years — but 20 years of treating Iran differently that other NPT signatories fuels rather than allays Iranian suspicions of American intentions.

The duration of a comprehensive deal has become a political issue, so both sides must split the difference. There is no truly objective way to do this, so they should use the IAEA to provide scientific cover for a mutually agreed upon political decision. For example, Washington and Tehran should hammer out a timeline — 10 years? — for permanently closing Iran’s nuclear file, take it to the IAEA, and have the agency announce the plan as an IAEA-led process. Doing so will give their political timeline for the duration of a deal the scientific veneer it needs to survive public scrutiny.

This will also help resolve the third remaining point of contention: Cooperation with the IAEA regarding Iran’s past nuclear activities — particularly possible military dimensions (PMD) prior to 2003. This is no doubt an important issue, but it is equally important to avoid making mountains out of molehills.

To hear Western diplomats tell it, one of the most interesting dynamics is the interplay between issues: If the two sides can agree on the size and contours of Iran’s enrichment program and the duration of a deal, PMD (and sanctions relief) issues should get resolved much easier. In other words, a political decision must be made in Washington and Tehran to accept technical solutions to these challenges — and it is easier to accept technical solutions when you know the political road ahead.

Ostensibly, Iran is negotiating with the P5+1 and the IAEA on separate tracks — but in reality, Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA is a direct function of the P5+1 track. Resolving PMD issues should be viewed through this lens. No amount of scrubbing sites or shifting soil can remove criminalizing traces of radiation, so the question is not if Iran answers PMD questions, but rather how. A potential win-win solution could be Iran accounting for past activities in return for ironclad P5+1 assurances that it will not pay for sins previously committed.

Washington and Tehran should accept this paradigm because focusing on a future that verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program is more important than shaming Tehran for activities it ceased over a decade ago. Consider the alternative: without a comprehensive deal, Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA at best is reduced to pre-Rouhani levels. At worst, Iran-IAEA cooperation is dead. Iran’s nuclear program is the most heavily monitored in the world, and that is unlikely to remain the case without a comprehensive deal. Assertions to the contrary are less than honest.

As another Western diplomat told me: “If it was up to the negotiators, the deal would be done. It’s now up to political leaders on both sides to take yes for an answer.” Acknowledging the tremendous progress that has been achieved to date does not lessen the importance of the unresolved issues. But those issues need not torpedo a historic diplomatic victory. The common thread that runs through each of these issues is simple: political leaders in Washington and Tehran will need to show a greater willingness to absorb and sell compromise.

The reality facing both sides will not change: There are spoilers in the U.S. and Iran who will try to torpedo a deal, no matter the details. Precisely because it is impossible to satisfy ideologues, they only way to defeat them is to have a deal in hand that both sides believe is a win-win outcome. That will force the ideologues to publicly flesh out the details of their alternative — and the only alternative to a comprehensive deal is war. That is Obama and Rouhani’s trump card, and as November 24 approaches, they must play to win the game.

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

NIAC Details Concerns with New Congressional Letter

Washington, DC – Last Thursday, a group of ten organizations including the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) led an organizational sign-on letter detailing concerns with a new Congressional letter being circulated for signature in the House by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY). 

The Royce-Engel letter outlines concerns with the recent missed deadline for the IAEA’s investigation into prior, possible military dimensions (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program. In the organizational response to that letter, groups conveyed that they shared concerns regarding Iran’s failure to meet two out of five benchmarks for the investigation, but also warned that language in the Royce-Engel letter appears to “suggest that the IAEA’s PMD investigation must be fully resolved before the P5+1 and Iran can cement a final nuclear agreement.” The organizations cautioned that that the IAEA investigation was never intended to be resolved in such time and that Congress must not make the investigation “a prerequisite for an agreement, rather than an element of a final deal” because doing so “could ensure that neither goal is achieved.”

Below, you can find a copy of the organizational letter sent to Reps. Royce and Engel, which was signed by representatives of ten organizations:
 

September 18, 2014

The Honorable Ed Royce Chairman
House Foreign Affairs Committee

The Honorable Elliot Engel Ranking Member
House Foreign Affairs Committee

Dear Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel,

We are writing to convey our concerns about a letter you are circulating concerning the IAEA investigation into the possible military dimensions (PMD) to Iran’s nuclear program.

We share your concern about Iran’s failure, thus far, to fully address two out of the five issues that are part of the IAEA’s investigation. However, we believe that some of the language in your letter is inaccurate and, if translated into policy, would be harmful – not only to the IAEA investigation itself, but also to the entirely separate, but related, efforts by the United States and P5+1 to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Specifically, your letter appears to suggest that the IAEA’s PMD investigation must be fully resolved before the P5+1 and Iran can cement a final nuclear agreement1. This assertion is both inaccurate and problematic. This is not a minor issue: making resolution of the PMD issue a prerequisite for an agreement, rather than an element of a final deal, could ensure that neither goal is achieved.

As you know, these negotiations have proceeded on the understanding that the effort to achieve a comprehensive nuclear deal is independent of a resolution of the IAEA’s investigation. There is thus no basis for the assertion that the achievement of a nuclear deal is predicated on first resolving all past PMD issues. Indeed, an effective monitoring and verification regime that would detect and prevent potential nuclear weapons activities can be established prior to completion of the IAEA investigation23. Furthermore, under the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the implementation of a final nuclear deal will require Iran to fulfill its NPT obligations, including resolution of the PMD issues.

We also believe your letter’s characterization of Iran missing this deadline on two out of five elements of the PMD investigation as a “refusal to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency” is an overstatement that is as unhelpful as it is misleading. In fact, the IAEA itself reports4 that the agency remains in discussion with Iran about resolving the two remaining issues and that Iran has fully implemented its obligations under the Joint Plan Of Action (JPOA). While Iran’s failure to meet the IAEA’s requirements on the two remaining issues is indeed a serious issue, it makes no sense to ignore the fact that Iran met the previous two deadlines for the IAEA’s investigation and provided information and access to resolve 13 areas of concern, including a PMD issue. Yes, Iran should fully address all remaining issues in the IAEA investigation, as it committed to in an agreement with the agency last November. But equating a missed deadline with a “refusal to cooperate” is inaccurate and misleading, given the status of the overall investigation and the ongoing contacts to resolve the issues.

In addition, we are concerned that the letter mischaracterizes the IAEA’s investigation as an “unrestricted inspection and verification regime.” The IAEA effort is a targeted and time-limited investigation into past issues, not an inspections and verification regime to monitor future activities. The latter is, in fact, what is under discussion in the P5+1 talks. This is important because, while the IAEA investigation can provide insights into past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, the P5+1 negotiations are aimed at preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon in the future. Your letter unfortunately conflates these two tracks and their respective timelines, and in so doing risks undermining them both.

Finally, we are very concerned this letter can be read to suggest a Congressional demand that any final agreement include unfettered access to all Iranian military facilities by international inspectors5. Such a requirement is a nonstarter for a negotiated solution – indeed, it is difficult to fathom how any country could consent to such terms – and is manifestly not a necessary component of a strong inspections and verification regime. Instead, a final deal will require Iran to implement the Additional Protocol6, which is specifically designed to guard against illicit nuclear programs. The Additional Protocol gives the IAEA the authority to visit any facility where nuclear material may have been introduced to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in Iran’s nuclear activities to ensure that the program is entirely peaceful.

We recognize that Congress has an important oversight role to play with respect to the Obama Administration’s efforts to resolve the challenges posed by Iran’s nuclear program. We believe it is absolutely right for you, as leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to ask questions and raise concerns. At the same time, we want to emphasize to you how critical it is that Congress supports both the IAEA investigation and the P5+1 negotiations. Together, they provide a critical opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, in all its aspects, diplomatically.

Regrettably, some of the language in your letter could undermine, rather than support, these diplomatic opportunities. We urge you to revise the letter to ensure this is not the case.

Sincerely,

Jamal Abdi
Policy Director
National Iranian American Council

Kelsey Davenport
Director for Nonproliferation Policy
Arms Control Association

Lara Friedman
Director of Policy and Government Relations
Americans for Peace Now

Kate Gould
Legislative Associate, Middle East Policy
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Sara Haghdoosti
CEO & Co-Founder
Berim.org

Laicie Heeley
Director of Middle East and Defense Policy
Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Paul Kawika Martin
Policy Director
Peace Action

Stephen Miles
Advocacy Director
Win Without War

Jon Rainwater
Executive Director
Peace Action West

Susan Shaer
Executive Director
Women’s Action for New Directions

Please direct correspondence to: 1411 K St NW #250, Washington, DC 20005

“A resolution of this issue is also essential to establishing a baseline regarding the status of the 

http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2014_09/Features/Nuclear-­‐Verification-­‐in-­‐Iran

http://iranmatters.belfercenter.org/blog/verification-­‐measures-­‐final-­‐deal

http://isis-­‐online.org/uploads/isis-­‐reports/documents/gov-­‐2014-­‐43.pdf

“We are concerned that an agreement that accepts Iran’s lack of transparency on this key issue would set the dangerous precedent that certain facilities and aspects of Iran’s nuclear program can be declared off limits by Tehran, resulting in additional wide-­‐ranging restrictions on IAEA inspectors, and making effective verification virtually impossible.”

http://www.armscontrol.org/files/files/ACA_Iran_Briefing_Book_Update_June_2014.pdf 

Photo Courtesy of AP

 

Iran Nuclear Gridlock Is Political, Not Technical

zarif-ashton2

The Iran nuclear talks present a rare opportunity for a major American diplomatic victory. If negotiators from the P5+1 and Iran bridge the remaining political gaps, they will resolve a major national security threat — a potential Iranian nuclear weapon — without a shot being fired.

Ostensibly, the talks have reached an impasse over technical issues surrounding the size and scale of Iran’s enrichment program. While this is the issue on which each side has chosen to make a stand, the challenge is political, not technical.

A final deal is expected to dramatically expand monitoring and inspection of Iran’s nuclear program. Near-constant monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities would continue, and Iran would be expected to ratify the IAEA’s Additional Protocol to ensure snap inspections of all nuclear facilities. Additional measures could ensure monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge assembly and uranium such that Iran would find overt or covert nuclear breakout nearly impossible and enormously risky. As numerous nonproliferation analysts have indicated, this is the real value of a deal. Regardless of the exact scale of Iran’s enrichment program, robust transparency and verification measures would be an enormous disincentive to Iran pursuing a weapon and would ensure that any ill-advised move to break out would be swiftly detected.

There is little basis to scuttle a possible deal over the enrichment issue if such verification measures are in place. But right now, the negotiations appear to be in a game of who beat whom on centrifuges, and by how much. Members of the P5+1 appear to want to cap Iran’s centrifuges at a few thousand at the start of a deal, and perhaps for the deal’s entire duration. Iran appears to want what it is currently operating, 9,000 centrifuges, at the start of a deal and to gradually increase that number over the course of an agreement.

If Iran concedes and accepts the P5+1’s proposal, the U.S. could notch a win on centrifuges and likely have an easier time selling the deal to a recalcitrant Congress. But if that happens, Rouhani would likely have a more difficult, if not impossible, time selling the deal to the Supreme Leader and hardliners in Iran’s political system. Of course, this dilemma is also reversible. If the P5+1 bends completely, an Iran win is perceived as a loss for the U.S. and the rest of the P5+1.

This presents each side with a bind. Like it or lump it, both sides have to bend on this issue. That’s the only way to bridge the impasse and secure a durable deal. Hopefully, each side has not yet presented its ultimate bottom line. Once the impending threat of an extension gets closer, which would open an opportunity for hardliners on each side to scuttle an agreement, concessions could come quickly and rapidly to bridge the remaining gaps. In the end, each side is worse off if this diplomatic opportunity falls through.

Neither side can forget that this issue is about more than centrifuges. For Iran, it helps determine whether forces of moderation or recalcitrance guide the country in a pivotal period for the region. For the U.S., it is clear that this will be a legacy issue for President Obama. But it is also a litmus test for American diplomacy. After the George W. Bush administration demonstrated the fallacy of relying wholly on force to achieve American objectives, a successful Iran nuclear deal would remind America that peaceful alternatives are not just worth exploring, but capable of delivering major national security victories. This could change how America approaches national security challenges well into the foreseeable future and ensure that neoconservatism remains where it should be: the dustbin of history.

To get there, numerous obstacles remain — not least a recalcitrant Congress that holds the key to lifting nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, which is a key requirement to seal the deal. As we enter what could be the endgame of nuclear talks, both President Obama and President Rouhani would be wise to remind their negotiators of the enormity of the stakes and that they can’t afford to let political jockeying stand in the way of a deal.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post…

Photo via Christian Science Monitor