Negotiators from the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran are racing to try to conclude a political framework agreement for a comprehensive, long-term nuclear deal to block Iran's potential pathways to nuclear weapons by the end of March, with technical details on a final deal to be ironed out by the end of June.
Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant progress on long-term solutions on several challenging issues. Following the most recent round of high-level talks, the two sides reportedly made progress on key remaining issues.
At the same time, key members of Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation and set unrealistic requirements for a nuclear deal. Also, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he will introduce legislation this month that would give Congress the opportunity to vote to disapprove or approve a comprehensive nuclear agreement once and if it is completed. Both proposals have drawn a veto threat from the Obama administration.
- Richard Nephew, Program Director, Economic Statecraft, Sanctions and Energy Markets, Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, and former Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the Department of State, and Director for Iran on the National Security Staff;
- Kelsey Davenport, Director of Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association;
- Larry Hanauer, Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation, and former senior staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence;
- Moderated by Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association.
Transcript by: National Press Club
DARYL KIMBALL: Good afternoon, everyone. If you could please take your seats, turn off your ringers on your cell phone so we're not interrupted. Welcome. I'm Daryl Kimball, I'm Executive Director of the Arms Control Association. We're an independent, nonpartisan research and public education organization. And our mission is to reduce and eliminate the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.
And we've convened this briefing here today on an effective P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran and the role of Congress because after more than a year of intense, serious negotiations, top diplomats from the United States along with the other permanent members of the Security Council, and Germany, are closing in on a long-term comprehensive agreement that we believe would be effective in preventing a nuclear armed Iran.
The agreement that appears to be taking shape would, as we’ll hear in more detail from our experts, block Iran’s major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development, the uranium enrichment route, the plutonium separation route, and would also guard against a clandestine weapons program. The agreement would be a major boon for U.S. and international security, for the security of Israel, and our other allies in the region and for global efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. It’s an opportunity we simply can't afford to squander.
Last week, the two sides further narrowed their differences on remaining gaps, which includes how to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity under the agreement. We believe they're close to concluding a detailed political framework agreement by the end of March, perhaps a little sooner, with a final complete agreement including all of the technical annexes by the end of June.
Beginning on Monday, the negotiators, including Secretary of State Kerry, Foreign Minister Zarif, Secretary of Energy Moniz and his counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi from Iran, will meet again outside of Geneva to work on bridging the remaining differences.
And there's no time to waste, as we’ll hear also today, some members of Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation by the end of March if there is no political framework agreement. Some members appear to want to write into such a bill unrealistic requirements for what the deal must achieve. Some of the proponents of these new sanctions, quite plainly, say that their aim is to blow up the negotiations.
In the House, the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs is reported to be working on a bill that would revoke the President’s existing authority under law to waive certain sanctions, which will be necessary in the initial phases of the agreement to implement it. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker is about to introduce legislation, perhaps next week, that would halt the implementation of any comprehensive P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran until Congress has a chance for an up or down vote.
So both of these proposals, both of these ideas, have drawn veto threats from President Obama and for very good reason. Congress has many ways to responsibly and constructively weigh in on the agreement, but the Arms Control Association believes it would be irresponsible, especially with an effective deal within sight, to initiate additional sanctions or to try to block implementation of the agreement soon after it’s concluded and before we contest Iran’s willingness to comply with tougher limits on its nuclear program.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will be here next week. He’s to be expected to make the argument that the deal isn't good enough. He is going to be suggesting that within additional pressure through tougher sanctions, somehow, some way, Iran’s leaders will cry uncle. They will agree to dismantle their major nuclear weapons facilities. Our analysis is that that is fantasy. That would be ideal, but that's a fantasy.
As my colleague, Kelsey Davenport, has written, in 2005 that might have been possible when Iran had just a few hundred centrifuges. But today, ten years later, 20,000 centrifuges later, those who insist on dismantling Iran’s program are tilting at windmills.
So if the P5+1 and members in Congress hold out for more, there are going to be quite dire consequences, and we’ll hear more about that from our speakers.
And so the agreement, as we’ll talk about more in detail, we believe is going to be effective. It’s not going to deliver everything that the P5+1 want, nor everything that Iran is seeking, but it can provide what both sides need.
So to explore these and other issues, we've got three great speakers who are very knowledgeable about all the facets I've just been touching upon. After each of them speaks, we're going to take your questions and get into discussion. So first, we're going to hear from Richard Nephew, who is program director of economic statecraft, sanctions and energy markets at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, a new program I understand. And he’s the former Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the Department of State, and was also former Director for Iran at the National Security Council just a hop, skip and jump away. He will provide us with his perspectives on the administration’s strategic goals, the thinking behind the P5+1 approach in these issues, and the choices ahead.
And next, Kelsey Davenport, our Arms Control Association nonproliferation policy director, is going to outline what we believe are the key elements of the agreement, how some of the tough issues are probably going to be resolved, and how to judge the effectiveness of the agreement from a nonproliferation perspective.
And last, but not least, we’ll hear from Larry Hanauer, who’s senior international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation. He was a former senior staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. And he’s going to be reviewing some of the results of a recent, very recent, RAND study on the role of Congress in this matter. And he’s going to focus on some of the ideas that are in play and share his thoughts on homeland security Congress can most productively weigh in on a P5+1 agreement with Iran. So with that, let me ask Richard to start us out. The floor is yours.
RICHARD NEPHEW: Great, thank you very much. And thank you, very much, Daryl, for both your introduction and the opportunity to come and participate here in this panel. I see some familiar faces out here. I've had the opportunity to participate in a number of panels before, but for the first time, I actually have a task that's a little bit more daunting, which is speaking for myself. So, I hope that you will find it informative and interesting. I believe I have done at least one of those things in the past before, but probably not both, and hope to do that both here.
As Daryl was just saying, I've been asked to talk a little bit about the strategic objectives that both sides, particularly the United States though, is taking into the negotiation, as well as a little bit of what the implications would be of congressional action. I have to say, just at the outset, that my very strong view is that new legislation now would be counterproductive and deeply damaging to the diplomatic process. And I'll describe in a minute or two why I think that’s true.
But I have to emphasize there that the operative word is now. And I think this is part of what gets lost a little bit in this debate, is that question about what we should be doing now at present to confront the Iranian challenge, which in my view ought to be negotiations and diplomacy, and what we might choose or have to choose to do if talks were to collapse. But the key issue now is how do we give the talks the best chance of actually succeeding as opposed to actually spurring their move towards collapse.
I think that part of the reason why this is so complicated is that both sides are entering into what's a very perverse game of chicken that you have to do any time you're engaged in a public negotiation. And that is that both sides need to be demonstrating a very palpable sense of nonchalance as to the potential risks and consequences of failing to get a deal. Any time you hear either the Secretary of State, the President, or the Iranians talk about a deal, everybody always has to add at the end, “But, you know, we can survive if we don’t have a deal.” And I think this is because, in part, the stakes are so high for both sides. And perversely, there is a need for both sides to demonstrate that they can get along just fine to avoid giving the appearance of desperation. And it’s desperation, I think, that is one of the biggest risks that we face as we go into this negotiation. And again, perversely, it’s desperation that I think is signaled by the fact that there is so much energy to try and kill what could be an otherwise attractive-looking deal and part of the reason why we need to give a deal an opportunity to manifest itself.
You know, I think both sides in the negotiation would reject the idea that they are desperate. And I think both sides would reject the idea that they're entering the talks with anything other than principles in mind. But frankly, as you think about the idea of principles in negotiation, it’s a very unusual concept. Everybody brings principles into negotiation. Certainly, you can't truly negotiate unless you have principles. But I think if you're ever engaged in negotiation that wants a mutually attractive outcome, at some point or another, principles have to be a little bit more flexible and you have to decide what principles you really need to stand on and which principles are good to haves. And I think, again, this is one of the main reasons why the present negotiation is both so complicated and so technical and so difficult, is because at one hand, it’s been the negotiator’s need to try and find what are core principles.
For the United States, what is it exactly that we need to achieve in order to have a good deal? For the Iranians, what do we need to preserve in order to have a good deal, as well as achieve in terms of sanctions, relief and so forth? And I think this just adds to the level of difficulty and complexity here.
But I think the simple analysis and the simple truth that I hope you take from anything I say today, is that when you're engaged in a real negotiation, you do not have the luxury of seeking the ideal. There is no negotiation that I can think of that actually involves two sides sitting down at a table and trying to come up with a mutually acceptable set of answers that actually involves an ideal outcome for either side. Ideals are luxuries, ideals are things that you may be able to achieve. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to decide what is really important, what advances your real national interests here.
And let’s take an example that's very pertinent to this issue of enrichment. Now, the Iranian government has been unambiguous for over a decade that it will not negotiate on its perceived right to uranium enrichment. They’ve argued that this right needs to be exercised, not just held, not just known. For the longest time, on the other hand, the United States took the principle position that Iran had no right to enrichment. But further, that Iran’s clandestine acquisition of the technology and the fact that it was engaged in these activities under UN sanctions, and the fact that they had engaged in efforts to develop nuclear weapons meant they probably couldn’t also have the exercise of that technology.
And I have to say that principle position was comfortable, it was emotionally satisfying and it got nowhere in the negotiations that we engaged in with the Iranians for roughly six years. And that's not surprising because the Iranians entered into the conversation with a completely different set of core principles. And, the fact that both sides were exercising those principles led to mounting uranium enriched stockpiles, thousands of centrifuges being installed, and ever-narrowing breakout timelines.
They also led to increasing instability in the Gulf and there's enough instability in the Gulf, but it’s been getting worse as Iran is looking towards acquiring even a latest breakout capability unrestricted by any kind of nuclear deal.
So the Obama Administration faced a crossroads. They could continue to insist on a set of core principles and face the uncertain prospect of sanctions forcing Iranian capitulation or risking a conflict, or the administration could test the theory that negotiations could result in an Iranian nuclear program that does not create nearly the same security problems as what's happening now. And the key and the center of that would be both restrictions and intrusive verification and monitoring steps. And the test is what led to the joint plan of action, which was agreed to by the United States, and its P5+1 partners and Iran in November of 2013. And for the first time in nearly a decade, halted Iran’s nuclear program and rolled it back in key respects.
Both sides had to compromise on their principles to get there. The United States certainly had to be prepared to acknowledge that enrichment could be part of Iran’s future in a nuclear program, which was not something that for a very long time was in the cards. The Iranians, on the other hand, also compromised on their core principles by saying that they would halt an enrichment program and they would subject it to international restrictions including international restrictions achieved through negotiations with the “Great Satan.” And I don't think that the impact of that politically in Tehran can be underestimated. The fact that they agreed to restrictions, which they always said they were going to resist after negotiating with the United States.
Both sides also, though, indicated they’d be prepared to compromise further in order to get to a comprehensive plan of action. And a comprehensive deal that would competitively address all the remaining problems. Now, that does not mean, however, that comprehensive would automatically lead to no concerns whatsoever for either side. Instead, both sides would have to find ways of accommodating one another and accommodating one another’s natural and at some level instinctive security concerns and lack of confidence in one another.
For Iran, they made very clear that they will not terminate their enrichment program, period. They also will not take steps at the barrel of a gun. In this context, the tool of U.S. sanctions. They will not dismantle their entire nuclear program on the promise of sanctions relief in the future. They are going to insist that any kind of deal that comes out of this process have sanctions relief for them early on in order to make it a reasonable deal for them.
For the United States, we've also made it very clear that we're not going to agree to anything at the barrel of a gun. And that means continuing nuclear advancement on the part of Iran. It’s part of the reason why the joint plan of action was so important, was to put the nuclear program on ice such that negotiations could take place in a much more calm atmosphere.
And I would just note for anyone who thinks that the current climate is very tense, imagine if we were continuing to have these negotiations without the plan of action in which the Iranian nuclear program was operating 20,000 centrifuges and potentially installing them at an even faster rate.
You know, a purely principled negotiation would end right there with both sides having stated what their principles are, and then walking away from one another. But the negotiators are trying to find a way to permit increased confidence on both sides that a deal can both be achieved, as well as could work. And so that's going to require lengthy and technical talks. They need to combine political steps with technical modifications, with legal interpretations, to create an agreement that's sustainable over the long term. And neither side is going to get its ideal outcome in doing so.
But if both sides are able to explain how their core interests are assured, then to my mind, that's the only principle that really counts. And that’s the principle, I think, that is governing our negotiators, and I believe to some extent as well the Iranian negotiators as they enter the talks.
Now for Iran at its heart, their core political is acceptance for its nuclear achievements and resumption of economic ties to the outside world without being humiliated. And I think the issue of humiliation for Iran is very real. It is something that may come off as a sound bite, but I think it actually is part of and invests itself in every one of Iran’s strategic calculations and decisions.
For the United States, our core principle, I think, is a nuclear program that cannot be used to build nuclear weapons in such a short amount of time that we cannot prevent it in the defense of ourselves, our partners and our interests. And it’s also about confirming an international norm that fewer nuclear weapons in nuclear armed states is better than more.
And this returns me to the issue of more congressional pressure now. You know, I think the simple truth of it is the United States and Iran are engaged in a very public negotiation. This would be a heck of a lot easier if it was not, because then we wouldn't have to be having the same kind of conversation in public as we have to have in private and trying to manage both of those dynamics.
But let’s be really blunt here. If the United States acts in any way that appears to be reconciling itself to Iran’s interests, then the administration is subject to intense criticism. The same is true for Iran. And while the Iranian negotiators aren’t often accused of having their talking points written in Washington, the reality is that there is just as intense criticism of them for what they are doing in the negotiating room as with us. And they cannot appear to concede to the United States on any issue. And, in fact, if you look at the joint plan of action, the entire text is vested with descriptions of Iranian declarations and announcements and things that are their own active decision. And that's because at the end of the day, they cannot come home with a document that says Iran will do the following because it was forced to, and because it was forced to in particular by a group of countries that includes the United States.
So, frankly, solutions do not have to come from Iran, but the Iranians have to be able to stand up and say that those solutions, the comprehensive solutions that are to be reached, reflect their interests, their views, their desires and are responsive to their policy interests. And that's part of the reason why I think legislation now is so dangerous. It just strips the negotiators of their ability to negotiate and it paints a target on their backs every single day they have to go back to Tehran.
Now at this point, I usually get accused of protecting Iran or looking out for them rather than the United States. And look, nothing could be further from the truth. And I've become famous in saying they're big boys, they can defend themselves and they can negotiate for themselves. But there is a meaningful difference between serving Iranian interests and protecting American interests by not fouling the nests of the people that we're dealing with. And that distinction, I think, is what is in all of the policy statements and decisions that are being taken by the administration as they seek to negotiate with Iran.
And for this reason, I personally oppose any legislation that sets a time deadline on the talks or defines what must be in an acceptable deal unless it’s the most generic statement of policy. All this does is create expectations on the Iran side to resist and to buck the authority of the west. It doesn’t create pressure on the regime; rather, it gives them an out to argue that they must stand up for the independence of the Iranian people.
Similarly, the idea of establishing explicit requirement for an up or down vote is unnecessary and counterproductive, though I can understand why it’s beguiling. First, as I understand it, the goal is to make it very, very clear that Congress will have a say on the issue of a nuclear deal. If nothing else has been proven since November of 2013, it is that the U.S. Congress is interested in Iran and is going to have its voice heard.
And the second is that Congress doesn't need to give itself this authority. And I think we're going to hear about some of their options that they have later on. But the flat answer is that Congress can stop the implementation of any deal that it dislikes. And to the natural counterargument of this puts the blame on Congress, then. They have to defund implementation, or so forth, I have to retort an up or down vote doesn't do that after a deal has been reached.
The simple reality is that by any action that is taken now is potentially putting the United States into the crosshairs of being responsible for having scuttled the process. And I think that is what is most dangerous. And I think the administration knows full well what Congress’s views are and what's an acceptable deal. I know that I knew them when I was in the administration and when I was working on this issue. And I don't believe that much has changed since I left.
Frankly, if Congress wants to put pressure on the regime, then it will stop giving hard liners in Tehran easy sound bites to react to. Instead, it will work to try and make a deal possible. There will be hearings, there will be discussions about how sanctions relief would actually be executed. It will demonstrate that if, in fact, a deal is reached and it’s deemed acceptable, that the Congress will stand behind the administration in executing it. Because then, the Iranian hardliners will have no place else to turn, other than to themselves, in rejecting a deal.
But if on the other hand they're able to point to clear indications that a deal will not be agreed to or will not be implemented if agreed to at the outset, then I think that simply scuttles any real chance of them being able to negotiation with us. And I think also Congress can set the table by doing things like changing the rules on U.S. export of oil. Things that help to create the conditions for future sanctions pressure are good ways of supporting the administration in its efforts to both negotiate and then to execute that pressure in the future.
And I think, then, I would just conclude with one last point. There's often a consideration given to “couldn’t we get more concessions from the Iranians if we just add pressure now?” And I think the thought behind that is the Iranians have come to the table under a certain degree of pressure, they certainly will have to make a deal if they have more pressure applied to them. My view is no, I don’t think, in fact, that's true. And I think any reasonable history of the Iranian nuclear program vis-à-vis sanctions shows that at best it’s a foot race between the sanctioners who are trying to increase pressure and the pace of the nuclear program. But I will acknowledge it’s not impossible. It’s entirely possible that adding more pressure on Iran now we’ll get concessions that we couldn't get at the negotiating table today.
But, there is a risk to that. And it’s a bet that's being taken by the people who decide to walk away from the table now. The real answer is no one knows. No one knows what could potentially happen if we apply additional pressure now, or if we wait. But I think we can look based upon recent history, and we can make an educated guess. And in my view, the educated guess is that more pressure now, or the appearance of more pressure now, would force negotiators to walk away from the table or to be unable to make the kinds of concessions that they need to make in order to have a long and sustainable nuclear deal.
For those who are making the bet on the opposite side, I think they also need to be able to demonstrate why they're right and why it’s automatically the case that adding more pressure now is automatically going to lead to a better deal. Because, frankly, I don't think they can and I don't believe that the analysis would bear that out.
I think that, frankly, the most pressure we can put on the Iran government now is to keep silent about what we need and instead of concentrating on what's on offer because we need the ability, if a deal is not achieved, to be able to stand up to the world and ask why it would turn its back on the sanctions relief that would be promised as part of a deal. Why it would be unable to modify the Iraq reactor to not produce weapons grade plutonium every single year. Why it would not be able to take reasonable restrictions on its enrichment program. And why it would not be able to grant the transparency and access and verification that’s required to execute a nuclear deal that's reached.
In my opinion, it’s exactly that kind of pressure that can motivate the Iranians to look around themselves and decide a deal is far better than pursuing their own nuclear program unrestricted. Thank you.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right, thank you very much, Richard. And I want to remind everybody Richard was in the negotiating room last year. The next speaker was outside the negotiating room several times, Kelsey, on behalf of the Arms Control Association, spent a lot of time in the coffee shop outside the Coburg Palace and elsewhere. Has been tracking the talks for us and she's going to tell us a little bit about what we think this thing might look like. Kelsey?
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Great, thank you Daryl. Thank you all for coming and thank you to Richard for laying out the principles of each side so clearly. Because now I want to talk a little bit about how the sides can find compromise on the nuclear elements to reach a deal that allows both sides to go back to their domestic audience and say that they’ve upheld these principles.
But before getting into the specifics, I want to really echo Daryl’s point, that the United States and its negotiating partners are on the cusp right now of a historic opportunity to reach a deal with Iran that guards against its obtaining nuclear weapons sort of well into the future. And that deal is not only possible now but it’s becoming probable and it’s looking increasingly likely that the negotiators can reach a broad agreement on the parameters by the end of March. And particularly in Washington, giving the negotiators time and space to do that is key.
But when an agreement is reached, it’s also important to evaluate it based on what is realistic and what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. No deal is going to be perfect, no deal is going to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program entirely. But we don’t need a perfect deal, we need a good deal. So the U.S. really has three goals sort of within the negotiation to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. And that's to block Iran’s pathways to the bomb using both plutonium and uranium; to guard against a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program; and to provide incentives and an agreement for Iran to follow up and comply sort of well into the future.
So, first to look at blocking Iran’s pathway to the bomb. There are two materials that you can use for nuclear weapons; separated plutonium and weapons grade uranium. So, to look first at plutonium, Iran and the P5+1 have made significant advances on coming to an agreement on how to deal with the plutonium question. Iran right now has a heavy water reactor that it was constructing prior to reaching the interim agreements. They’ve halted construction as part of the deal. And if completed, that reactor, as designed now, would produce enough plutonium that when separated would be equivalent to about two weapons every year. So that's about eight kilograms in total.
Now, working with the P5+1, they’ve come to an agreement whereby Iran could modify the reactor, reducing the power level and changing the fuel and that would dramatically decrease the amount of weapons usable plutonium that the reactor would produce, thus blocking the path to a bomb by reducing that to less than one kilogram of plutonium, in all likelihood. And then but also allowing Iran to complete the reactor, which is a very important principle from the Iranian perspective.
So consider that against the alternative. Two bombs worth or uranium produced a year versus less than a quarter produced every year. And a commitment from Iran that it will not separate the weapons-usable plutonium out of the spent fuel. So that's extremely significant for the United States.
Now, the uranium enrichment question is slightly more complex, and it’s been one of the more difficult issues for the negotiators to find a compromise on. The United States has publicly committed to pushing Iran’s ability to produce enough weapons grade uranium for one bomb back to 12 months. Right now, they could do that in two to three months. And I want to stress that that is just the time it would take for Iran to produce the uranium for one bomb. There are a number of other steps that they would have to take after that to weaponize the material before they would actually have a weapon. So that's 12 months plus that additional time. And that's what the U.S. wants to achieve in these negotiations.
Now, a combination of measures sort of will push back the time that it will take Iran to accumulate this material. Uranium is enriched to both power reactor grades and to weapons grade using centrifuges. And the number of centrifuges that Iran is allowed under this deal has become highly symbolic of how a deal is assessed. And that, in my opinion, is a huge problem because it reduces a complex set of figures to one number. There is no magic number. If the deal has 5,000 centrifuges, that doesn't make it a good deal. And if it has 5,001, that doesn't make it a bad deal. You have to look at how all of the factors play together and interact. And that’s how you'll then begin to see if you reach that 12-month time period that the United States wants.
So, that will mean a combination of limiting Iran’s centrifuges. Currently, Iran has nearly 20,000 centrifuges installed, of which about 10,200 are enriching uranium. So it will probably entail dismantling some of those centrifuges that are installed but not enriching, and then likely reducing the number that are enriching, that 10,200, and perhaps reconfiguring them so that they become less efficient.
Now, that also will be coupled with reducing the stockpiles of enriched material that Iran is allowed to keep in the country. Right now, Iran is enriching to less than five percent and not suitable for power reactors. Materials suitable for bombs is enriched to greater than 90 percent. And keeping that stockpile of enriched uranium low will help increase the time it would take for Iran to move to those weapons grade levels.
Another thing that will be likely within the uranium enrichment sort of package is that there will be limits put on Iran’s research and development of advanced machines, and the production of those machines. And that gives the international community more assurance that Iran won't be building advanced machines and then move very quickly towards nuclear weapons at the culmination of a deal, which is likely to be sort of at least ten years in terms of the limits on Iran’s program.
Also, there probably will be no enrichment allowed at the Fordow facility; that's one of Iran’s two enrichment facilities that the United States and its allies have been concerned about because it’s buried sort of deep within a mountain and quite difficult to access. So, much has been made sort of within the past few months since the last extension in November, a lot of progress has been made on the uranium enrichment question. And it’s this progress in particular that makes me hopeful that a deal is possible by the end of March.
Now, one of the things that we hear frequently when talking about uranium enrichment is this idea that we need to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Now, that is not going to happen. It’s like a mirage. It sounds good, but you can try as hard as you want and you will not get there. You cannot bomb away the knowledge that Iran has gained from its nuclear program. You cannot sanction it away. You cannot dismantle it. Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability since 2007, and this is something that the international community has to live with. So the best way to insure that Iran does not choose to pursue nuclear weapons is to reach a good agreement that limits the program and puts in place very strict monitoring and verification.
So, with the deal you push Iran’s timeline to getting nuclear material for a bomb back to 12 months. With no deal, it’s at two to three right now, and that time frame will narrow quickly if the sides walk away from the table and Iran ramps up its enrichment program, if it turns on those additional nearly 10,000 machines that are installed, if it begins to install more machines, and if it returns to enriching to higher and higher levels.
Now, the second element of a good deal is guarding against a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program. Now, prior to the interim agreement, the U.S. intelligence community assessed that if Iran were to choose to pursue nuclear weapons, it would most likely do so through a covert program. And that assessment is understandable given Iran’s past history. They did build their enrichment sites without notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency, so they have a history of these types of covert activities. But a good deal can put in place the monitoring and verification to insure that these measures don’t continue. And this is key, also, then to immediately determining any deviation from an agreement that Iran may take in the future.
Now, one of the key provisions of the additional monitoring and verification will be the additional protocol. And one of the advantages of the additional protocol is that it is permanent. The limits on Iran’s nuclear program will eventually expire, but the additional protocol will remain in place. And this mechanism gives the International Atomic Energy Agency expanded access to Iran’s sites. It will encompass Iran’s entire fuel cycle so that's from mining the raw uranium to building the centrifuges to the enrichment facilities to the Iraq heavy water reactor. So this is very important because it also gives the inspectors sort of shorter notice to access Iran’s sites.
And there are mechanisms that give the IAEA access to sites if they have concerns that Iran may be undertaking sort of covert nuclear activities. So this is incredibly important assurance to the international community that Iran will not be deviating from an agreement and will not be putting in place a covert program.
And then there are some additional measures that will likely be included. Iran will probably be required to abide by another agreement with the IAEA called code 3.1 that requires Iran to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information about new nuclear facilities that it intends to build from the moment that they decide to do so. So that's much earlier notice than what the IAEA gets now when Iran decides to move forward with new nuclear projects.
A deal will probably also incentivize Iran to answer some of the IAEA’s questions about the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. It’s fairly well accepted, sort of both in the United States and in the international community, that prior to 2003, Iran conducted activities that were relevant to developing a nuclear weapon. But Iran has been slow to work with the IAEA to provide information about those activities. But a deal will provide Iran incentives to do so. Sanctions relief at certain measures if it follows through with the IAEA.
So again, sort of these measures give the international community far more assurance that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, that it cannot develop a covert program. And if you look at this versus the alternative, less inspections than we have now, less monitoring, fewer inspectors on the ground, it would be much easier for Iran with no deal to pursue nuclear weapons. So again, the benefits of the monitoring and verification far exceed the alternative. And as I said, are permanent.
Finally, sort of the last thing that a deal really needs to do is to incentivize Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons in the future. So within the final deal, as Iran makes these concessions, as it gives up elements of its nuclear program, as it adds more monitoring and verification, it’s important to provide them with reciprocal sanctions relief and to phase that sanctions relief over the course of a deal. That will help insure that Iran continues to abide by the agreement. And we see an excellent precedent for that in the interim agreement. In addition to being granted some sanctions relief, Iran was also able to access frozen assets every month, and as it met certain milestones to neutralize elements of its more highly enriched 20 percent stockpiles of uranium.
So, and I believe, too, that establishing that compliance record will help give Washington and the international community sort of more confidence that Iran is not going to move down the nuclear weapons path in the future. But, as Richard said, and I think Larry will talk more to later, Iran has to believe that Congress will follow through with sanctions relief. If they do not think that the U.S. is willing to uphold its end of the bargain, they have very little incentive to negotiate and to reach a final agreement.
And that is one of the reasons why congressional action at this time, or the prospective of a vote of disapproval could be very damaging to the negotiations which are now in such a critical phase and so close to reaching an agreement.
So in conclusion, no deal with Iran is going to be perfect. Neither side is going to get everything that they want. But it’s important to measure a good deal against the alternative; no deal. A good deal will reduce the amount of weapons usable plutonium that Iran produces. No deal will give them two bombs’ worth a year. A good deal will extend the uranium timeline to over 12 months. No deal will shorten it. A good deal will put in stringent monitoring and verification. And under no deal, we will have far less inspectors on the ground watching Iran’s nuclear program.
So, this is a historic opportunity to reach a deal with Iran and really minimize a threat to both U.S. security interests and regional security. And to reach a deal policymakers in D.C. need to be supportive of the negotiations now. Thank you.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thanks a lot, Kelsey. And about that Congress, Larry? Larry Hanauer is next, and Larry’s going to describe some of the options that Congress theoretically has and might pursue and some of the pros and cons. Thanks for being here, Larry.
LARRY HANAUER: Thank you, Daryl, and thank you to my colleagues for laying out the dynamics of the negotiations. At the RAND Corporation, where I'm a senior analyst, we realize that most observers are focused on exactly these dynamics and looking at the negotiations as they're unfolding. And so what that meant was that really few people were looking at what the world might be like after a deal is signed. So, my colleagues and I at Rand looked at a number of different issues looking at the days after a deal. And we looked at, for example, the implications of an agreement for U.S. force posture in the Middle East, for the nuclear nonproliferation regime, for potential changes to Iranian foreign policy, and then I took a look at the ways in which Congress might actually react to a deal and the different options that Congress has for effecting the implementation of a deal.
So really, there are three ways that Congress can engage constructively in shaping the implementation agreement. First, Congress should refrain from holding an up or down vote on a deal because congressional rejection of a deal would drive Iran to resume enrichment, weaken the sanctions regime, bolster Iranian hardliners, eliminate the possibility of a further future diplomatic solution, and isolate the United States.
Second, Congress should stop debating the potential for new sanctions until after the negotiation period ends on June 30th. Because continued debate alienates our allies and actually weakens the U.S. negotiating position. If a deal is reached, Congress can impose snap back sanctions that kick in if Iran reneges on its commitments. And if no deal is reached, Congress can impose punitive sanctions on Iran with the support of the White House and the international community.
Third, Congress can engage in aggressive oversight of the deal’s implementation by holding frequent hearings and briefings and requiring that the administration report frequently on the implementation of the agreement. Now, if a deal is reached, and this is what I'll focus on today, Congress really only has very limited ways to effect its implementation. It can accept the deal, either proactively or passively through inaction, which would allow it to go forward as negotiated. It can try to limit the executive branch’s authority to provide sanctions relief, which in all likelihood will have limited effectiveness. Or, it can reject a deal, either by voting it down or by imposing new sanctions which effectively scuttle it and that will have a range of negative consequences for the United States, some of which my colleagues already outlined.
So I'll look at a few ways first that Congress can facilitate the implementation of a deal. There are two primary ways it can do this. One is to lift sanctions by statute, or two, second, is to proactively express support for a deal either by explicitly authorizing and appropriating funds for its implementation or by passing a sense of Congress resolution or issuing other statements that indicate that Congress actually supports the deal’s implementation.
Now, no one’s actually discussing these measures at this point, so let's put those aside for now. But it’s also possible, actually, that Congress could do nothing, something that actually happens quite often in Washington, I guess, but at least do nothing that affects the implementation of a deal. In other words, it could fail to pass legislation, or it could pass a bill that then gets vetoed by the President and which Congress is unable to override. And in that case, the administration will be able to implement the agreement as it negotiated it.
Now also, it’s worth noting that if Congress takes no action, no legislative action, the Iran Sanctions Act, which contains many of the extra territorial sanctions that impact foreign companies, will actually expire in December 2016. And that will allow many foreign companies to invest in Iran and do business with Iran. So if Congress fails to take proactive action to renew that legislation or renew the sanctions contained in it, then that will be a form, essentially, of statutory sanctions relief, because those sanctions will disappear.
Now, Congress could also take steps that would restrict the President’s ability to issue sanctions relief. And there are several ways it could do so. First, Congress could modify the existing legislation that gives the President the authority to waive certain sanctions so as to revoke them or limit them in some way.
Second, it could shorten the duration of presidential waivers. Most of these waivers are allowed for 90 days or 180 days or some limited period of time. The President in many cases can issue them again, and again, and again, which means that long-term sanctions relief could effectively be provided through presidential waiver.
But Congress could act either to shorten the duration of those waivers or make them nonrenewable, which means they only can last for a limited period of time. And by doing that, Congress could also require the executive branch to come back to Congress and justify its--or at least publicly--justify its waiver decision. So in other words if a waiver can only last for 90 days instead of, let’s say, 180 days, the administration will have to justify its decisions more frequently, and presumably, in greater detail.
Third, Congress could make it harder for the President to waive sanctions by essentially requiring the President to certify something that is not certifiable. So for example, Congress could require that he certify that Iran has stopped supporting terrorism before a waiver can be issued. Well, that's a high bar. It's not something Iran’s likely to do so that could, in effect, limit the administration’s ability to issue those waivers.
Fourth, Congress could deny policy agencies the exclusive authority to determine whether Iran’s performance actually merits sanctions relief. So for example, it could require the explicit concurrence of the intelligence community that Iran has indeed complied with an agreement before a waiver could be issued.
So these limitations could hinder the President’s ability to provide sanctions relief. But in all likelihood, the executive branch will continue to have sufficient flexibility to waive many of the sanctions and thus keep the deal on track. In any case, though, we've assessed that Congress is not likely to really take these actions and to limit presidential waivers simply because it’s not going to leave anyone on Capitol Hill satisfied. Supporters of a deal will oppose the constraints that it places on the President, and opponents of the deal will object that the continued presidential waivers would enable the deal to go forward. So if no one’s happy, this doesn't seem like a very appealing option for members of Congress to pursue.
Now, most proposals being considered on Capitol Hill would actually block a deal from being implemented, or undermine it through new sanctions. So I'll go through a couple of those. There are two ways, principally, for Congress to block implementation of a deal. One is to deny funding for its implementation either through stand-alone legislation or simply as part of the normal budget process. So Congress could, for example, say that no funds shall be spent to send nuclear inspectors on inspection missions, or revise Treasury Department regulations or take any number of other steps.
The second way is for Congress to reject a deal through an up or down vote. And in the next few weeks, Congress is likely to take up legislation introduced by Senator Corker that would require the administration to present the agreement to Congress and give Congress the chance to approve it or reject it through an up or down vote.
Now, if Congress votes the agreement down, the President has promised he will veto that kind of legislation. And if Congress is unable to override the veto, then the executive branch gets to move ahead and implement the agreement. Although that said, the agreement will be weakened substantially by the lack of congressional support because our European and Asian allies and partners, the Iranians themselves, and also companies that are eager to invest in Iran would look at the congressional action and conclude that the potential for sanctions relief could be short-lived and that could make it very hard to secure continued long-term Iranian cooperation and make it hard to encourage companies to invest in Iran.
And as Kelsey suggested, we actually want Iran to see economic benefits from a deal because if Iran does not see economic benefits from a deal, whether it’s further trade and investment, then it has no reason to remain in the deal and is likely to pull out and resume its enrichment.
Now, if Congress casts a down vote, which the President then vetoes and Congress overrides the President’s veto, then that would, in essence, scuttle the deal. An interesting analogy, I heard someone compare it to in Peanuts where Charlie Brown runs to kick the football and Lucy pulls it away. So this would be equivalent to Congress pulling the football away, or pulling the rug out from under the deal.
So I want to look at the impact of that, and the consequences are similar to what my colleagues outlined. But before we do that, let’s look at it from an Iranian perspective. So the Iranian legislature, the Majlis, has the authority under Iranian law to give an agreement an up or down vote. So how would Americans react if the Majlis rejected a deal after it was signed by Iran and by the P5+1? Well, U.S. officials would likely denounce Iran as having negotiated in bad faith and claim that the Majlis’s rejection proves that Iran never actually intended to accept limits on its nuclear program. We would walk away from the deal, walk away from what we agreed to and pursue our previous policies, tight economic sanctions, probably even more vigorously.
Well, that's pretty much how Iran and our allies and partners would react if Congress votes down an agreement after it’s been reached, or otherwise prevents it from taking effect. So first, Iran will refuse to abide by the commitments it made at the negotiating table, and pursue its previous activities, its previous nuclear activities, and without international monitors in place that give us insights into what's going on.
Second, Iran will present Congress’s decision as proof that the United States never actually intended to provide sanctions relief and argue that U.S. policy is actually not to use sanctions as a tool to drive a change in Iranian behavior, but rather that U.S. policy is to keep a perpetual sanctions regime in place and keep Iran permanently isolated through economic sanctions. Now, many other countries, even if they don’t accept Iran’s rhetoric, will conclude that the United States is unwilling to ever relax sanctions on Iran. And most of these countries have only gone along with sanctions enforcement because we've promised them for a long period of time that as long as Iran is willing to negotiate in good faith that there will be an end to the sanctions regime.
So if Congress scuttles a deal, many of these partners will not only refuse to enforce any new sanctions Congress may impose, but they’ll likely walk away from the existing sanctions regime, particularly countries that maintain sanctions somewhat begrudgingly like China, India or Turkey, countries, for example, that purchase Iranian oil and are eager to continue doing so.
Third, we’ll be left with no options to address Iranian nuclear capabilities diplomatically. If Congress unravels a nuclear agreement, as Richard suggested earlier, Iran is not going to seek another diplomatic dialogue with the United States, certainly not in the near future.
So if Congress rejects a completed agreement, it will not produce a better deal. It will, instead, produce a situation in which Iran has no constraints on its nuclear program, international sanctions enforcement is weakened. Together, those two things mean that Iran’s economy improves without Iran having to give up its nuclear program, so that seems like a double victory for Iran and a double loss for what the United States is trying to achieve.
It means that Iranian reformers would be weakened by their failure to deliver an economic solution to Iran’s poor economy and that will strengthen the hardliners who are behind Iran’s use of terrorism and Iran’s more aggressive foreign policy in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. So we’ll be strengthening the hardliners in Iran and weakening the reformers who give us a potential to engage. So no matter what you think of the terms being discussed, this outcome seems worse. But that's what we’ll end up with if Congress undoes a deal that's been reached.
Now, Congress can also pass new sanctions and depending on how it does so, it could have two very different effects. So it could pass sanctions that kick in automatically, essentially to punish Iran. Or it could pass sanctions that kick in if Iran reneges on the deal. And the new sanctions that take effect automatically would have many of the same consequences we've discussed. It would drive Iran to walk away from a deal and resume enrichment, it could alienate our allies and partners, weaken the sanctions regime and leave the U.S. isolated.
But new sanctions that take effect if Iran reneges on its commitments could actually be an effective way to place pressure on Iran to follow through on the agreement because Iran will know the costs of noncompliance in advance, U.S. allies would understand that if new sanctions do get imposed, it’s because of Iranian noncompliance rather than because of a U.S. refusal to do its part. So in other words, Iran, rather than the United States, would become the spoiler. And as a result, there’d be greater international support for continued sanctions enforcement.
Now, it’s important for several reasons, however, that Congress not consider new sanctions, even snap back sanctions, until after a deal is reached. First, while negotiations are ongoing, sanctions bills convey to Iran that they're not likely to get the relief they're seeking, which means that the risks go up for them. And that suggests that they're likely to demand additional concessions from the United States and its allies at the negotiating table to compensate it for that risk. So in other words, considering new sanctions legislation while negotiations are ongoing could actually weaken the administration’s negotiating position rather than strengthen it.
Second, in terms of public perception, it really doesn't matter if Congress is debating now whether to impose sanctions later because few outside the United States, or even inside the United States, will really see the distinction between the current debate and the delay before such sanctions would take effect. So really, the congressional debate would bolster the impression that the United States is eager to keep sanctions in place permanently.
Third, to write effective snap back sanctions, Congress actually needs to define clearly the triggers, or the Iranian actions or inactions, that would trigger the sanctions to take effect. And it can't do that until it knows what Iran has actually agreed to. So if Congress tries to write that kind of legislation now, the triggers will have to be very broadly defined, which can lead to confusion down the road as to whether Iran has complied or not complied, or whether sanctions need to be reinstated or not. So to write clear triggers and sanctions legislation, it needs to be able to see what the Iranians have agreed to.
Finally, the longer Congress debates new sanctions, the more likely it is that international corporations seeking to enter the Iranian market will hold off before making investments. Again, Iran has to see the economic benefits of a deal to continue to abide by it.
But companies are not going to want to invest in Iran if they think that the window for doing business is going to be brief, as they won't have sufficient time to get a return on their investment. And this could kill a deal. If Iran doesn’t see the benefits in the agreement, it will have no incentive to continue complying. So, the longer Congress debates whether to impose new sanctions, the more likely that Iran will fail to see these economic benefits and the more likely it will pull out of the agreement.
So just to sum up, so what can Congress do to effect the implementation of a deal in a constructive manner? So again, as I said in the beginning, first Congress should not hold an up or down vote on a completed deal. A vote to scuttle a hard won diplomatic agreement would make the United States the spoiler and lead to a host of negative consequences for the United States, including elimination of diplomacy as a way to resolve the issue, resumption of Iran’s nuclear program and the weakening of international sanctions. And together, this means Iran’s economy gets better and it continues to make progress toward a nuclear weapon.
Second, Congress should stop debating the imposition of new sanctions until the negotiations are over. And at that point, it can continue the imposition of targeted snap back sanctions as a means of compelling Iranian compliance. The current debate makes it appear as if the U.S. is negotiating in bad faith and undermines U.S. negotiators and P5+1 negotiators. Iranian negotiators know that new sanctions are coming if no deal is reached. The ongoing congressional debate is not influencing them. As Richard indicated earlier, it’s only aiding hardliners’ ability to argue against a deal domestically and it’s empowering Iranian negotiators to demand more at the table.
There's no downside to waiting until negotiations end on June 30th before considering new snap back sanctions. If a deal is not reached, then Congress can impose new punitive sanctions with the support of the White House and the international community and if a deal is reached, Congress can pass legislation that would quickly re-impose sanctions in the event of Iranian noncompliance, and it can tailor the triggers for these snap back sanctions to match Iran’s specific commitments in a deal.
And finally, Congress should continue to exercise oversight through hearings and by requiring the administration to report. Now, some might argue I'm suggesting that Congress abrogate its responsibility as a co-equal branch of government to engage on critical policy matters or to engage in oversight. But these steps in no way undercut congressional authority. At any time, if Iran is determined to have reneged on the deal, Congress can vote to repudiate the deal, it can vote to de-fund U.S. implementation of the deal, or it can impose sanctions. There's no reason for Congress to do any of this now while diplomacy still has a chance to advance U.S. interests with few negative consequences. So there's no downside to waiting until June 30th.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right, thank you very much, Larry, and thanks for three great presentations. [applause] It’s now your turn. We have a microphone that we can move over to if you have a question. So, please wait for the mic to come over, identify yourself and please put it in the form of a question, thanks.
PETER SMALLWOOD: I'm Peter Smallwood, University of Richmond. It's a difficult question, but any of you who want to take a try at it, as you so clearly outlined, there's no 100 percent thing here. It’s not like we're going to have a deal that makes it impossible. We're trying to negotiate a deal that increases the length of time of time for them if they wanted to increase the probability that they get discovered. How much of the difficulty here is due to pride of not wanting to be seen as giving in to the great Satan or trust of not believing that we're actually going to follow through on relieving sanctions versus elements on the Iranian side that are trying to maintain as much as possible a shorter pathway, a plausible pathway, to actually get a nuclear weapon if they decide they need it?
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. You want to take a shot at that, Richard?
RICHARD NEPHEW: Sure. I mean, I think it’s the right question to ask, and frankly it’s the strategic question that we all need to be asking about, do we need to deal with Iran at all, right? I mean, if your assumption is that there is no deal that eventually Iran’s not going to try and break out of in pursuit of nuclear weapons, then I think the only logical conclusion is don’t do a deal, right? I mean, that to me is obvious. Because in any circumstance that you have a deal, you are potentially preserving and prolonging the life of a regime that you are 100 percent convinced is going to want to acquire nuclear weapons down the road.
I think where I am, and I think where the administration is based upon what we've gotten from the intelligence community and from our own assessments, is that Iran has not decided that it wants to have nuclear weapons forever and ever, alleluia, amen, right? There is still, in fact, a discussion that is to be had inside the Iranian system. At some point, in 2003, they decided to walk away from that because of the consequences they perceived from that.
I think it is an assumption to be made that they only did that for tactical reasons. It’s entirely plausible to me they did it because they saw what happened in Iraq and they decided that for the long haul, they don’t want to have the same consequences for them. Now, that doesn't mean they might not want to have that option, but that's part of the reason why the deal that we strike has got to preserve our ability to detect a move towards that option quickly. And I think one of the things that Kelsey said was so important was the verification and transparency steps that we're talking, and clearly like the additional protocol, for instance, those are going to remain in place after the expiration of any kind of restrictions that are in place here. That would, if done properly, verified properly, give you that same kind of lead time, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn’t keep the intelligence community looking for indications of intention and the fact that they're moving down the other direction.
But I think for me, anyway, I don't think it’s a given that they will definitely at some point in the future go for a bomb. And so therefore, I'm comfortable making a deal that preserves their space to respond to it if they choose to in the future. I think that if you automatically assume that they will, then it makes total sense for you to say that no deal is worth it. But then again, I think you still have to answer the question, is your decision here going to actually stop them, right? Because sanctioning them to death is not going to solve it, and bombing them right now isn't going to solve it forever, either. But that's just my answer.
DARYL KIMBALL: Yeah. Kelsey?
KELSEY DAVENPORT: There's one thing that I would add. One of Iran’s incentives in pursuing the Iranian enrichment program, at least that they give publicly, is this idea that they need to be able to provision for the domestic nuclear power reactors that they want to build in the future. Now, I certainly agree that there are elements of the regime that want to retain that hedging capability and as Richard said that, in my mind, argues for a deal that has more monitoring and verification.
But, I could see an agreement sort of further down the road, once this issue becomes sort of less political, when you look at what Iran is looking at in terms of its power reactors and provision of fuel from Russia, that the economic viability of producing its own fuel for domestic reactors just doesn't make sense anymore. That this becomes less of a pride issue and these other sort of reactors are in place, when there's assured Russian fuel supplies, that the expansion just isn't as attractive.
So, I think the longer agreement that sort of pushes that down the road could be beneficial sort of later on to Iran choosing to limit their program.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Another question, sir? Right here, and then we’ll come up front.
HOSSEIN SHAHBAZI: Hossein Shahbazi with Webster University. I'd like to ask you, Mr. Hanauer, that as we know there are generally three types of sanctions passed by Congress, nuclear, human rights, and terrorism. Now, a while ago Senator Kirk mentioned that the other two types, human rights and terrorism, also intertwined with the nuclear sanctions. So I'd like to see your opinion about if at some point Congress decides to go along with that decision not to vote against the deal, how do those two other types of sanctions would affect in any sense a nuclear issue?
Also, a question for Mr. Nephew, is that you very much summarized the Iranian positions about, or approach, towards the deal. I'd like to ask you one of the issues Iran has always had is the sanctions. And also, in addition to the American sanctions, the UN’s imposed sanctions. I'd like to know what is American positions about removal of the UN sanctions after at any time Iran engages seriously with the IAEA and decides to comply with their-- I'm so sorry.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thank you, I think we got the questions. Why don’t we just take the other question, Shervin here, and then we’ll take these two at once and then answer them.
HOWARD LAFRANCHI: Thank you. Howard LaFranchi with the Christian Science Monitor. A couple of questions quickly. One, Kelsey I think just this week Secretary Kerry said on the Hill anybody who thinks they know what's in this deal, they're wrong, they don’t. So I'm--
DARYL KIMBALL: Not everybody.
HOWARD LAFRANCHI: So I'm just kind of curious how you know as much as you do. [laughter] And if he’s just speaking rhetorically. But the second question is all along in these negotiations, one of the big concerns has been how the region would react. And so I'm just interested, the kind of deal that you think is coming, what you think might be the reaction and the response and some of the players in the region.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right, great. So, we got a couple of questions. Why don’t we take the first one, Larry.
LARRY HANAUER: Sure. I'll start with the first one about the sanctions that are related to human rights and support for terrorism and other issues. There's certainly been a lot of debate on Capitol Hill about what constitutes a nuclear related sanction, because that's what the United States has agreed to discuss. And in fact, the administration has said that the sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism and its abusive human rights are not on the table. So, the administration has said it is really only willing to negotiate some form of relief from the sanctions that were imposed as a result of Iran’s nuclear program.
Now, there will be continued debate over which sanctions get included in which basket. But one thing that's interesting to note is that the sanctions that prevent U.S. companies from doing business in Iran or from investing in Iran are virtually all based on the sanctions that were imposed because of human rights violations and terrorism. And so if the administration is not willing to discuss waiving those sanctions, or changing those sanctions in some way, then what that suggests is that even if there is some sort of relief from sanctions as part of a deal, American companies are not going to be included in that.
So I think the assumption, then, is that whatever economic engagement is permitted as a result of the deal, will be undertaken by companies in Europe and Asia and elsewhere. Now, one thing I think that Congress has probably not thought about is that if companies from Europe and Asia and elsewhere in the world are suddenly able to enter the Iranian market, they will start getting a lot of visits from American companies and their lobbyists to say, “Well, we want in, too.” American companies have generally not lobbied on this issue because there's simply been very little prospect that they’ll be able to do business in Iran and most of them, the larger ones anyway, have had other priorities.
And as long as the rest of the world was kept out, too, then at least everyone was on an equal footing. But if companies from other countries are able to do business in Iran and American companies are left out, the American companies are going to start complaining that they are at an unfair disadvantage and are losing out on opportunities and that the longer it takes Congress to lift the remaining sanctions, the more behind American companies will be once they're eventually allowed in, assuming they are at some point.
So, I think after a deal, when foreign companies start going into the Iranian market, members of Congress will need to start giving some serious thought because they’ll be under pressure to do so, as to whether they should lift the other sanctions. And then I think you may end up with a situation where some members of Congress who are against sanctions relief now who tend to be on the right side of the spectrum and thus many of which are pro-business will come under pressure to waive even more sanctions which is especially ironic given that they're opposing sanctions relief of any sort now. So that'll be somewhere down the road, but it’ll be an interesting situation for some members of Congress to find themselves in.
DARYL KIMBALL: Richard, do you want to address the UN Security Council issue and what happens with those resolutions?
RICHARD NEPHEW: Sure. Obviously, I can't speak to what the present U.S. negotiating posture is since I've left government, but I would say that it was made very, very clear and the joint plan action makes it very, very clear, that UN related, nuclear related sanctions on Iran, which are basically all the UN sanctions, would come off during the process of implementing the comprehensive plan of action. So I think the key issue is when, and at what point there's going to be enough confidence in the Iranian nuclear program to say restrictions on centrifuge flows and things like that can now come off. I wouldn't anticipate that that would be fairly early on in the process. I think that'll be after some considerable length of time. And some considerable length of implementation has taken place such that there could be confidence here.
And then just since I've got the microphone and they asked the question about the regional reaction as well, I guess I would say just two quick words on that. One, I think as Secretary Kerry in fact did say we do need to wait and see what the deal is before we can judge I think what regional reaction, or anyone’s real reaction ought to be to the deal, I think that any deal that lifts or has a process for lifting sanctions in Iran is going to be looked at as being a lost opportunity by some people in the region and beyond that who want to see sanctions as a tool that could be used to influence other Iranian behaviors. I think that's obvious.
But I don't think that it’s automatic that the reaction will be, well, this means it’s a bad deal. Some people might say that, but I think other people will say, “Okay, this solves our nuclear problem. But now we've got other problems. Let us try and solve those problems.” And they might have multiple solutions, anywhere from security assistance and security cooperation to cooperative work in terms of dealing with terrorist groups in the region and insurgencies.
So I guess what I would suggest is I think there is going to be a need on the part of people in the region and beyond that to respond to the deal. I don't think it’s going to be as black and white as it might be in some quarters. I think in a lot of places people say, “Okay, now that the sanctions tool is being put on the shelf, in some regard, that means we're going to need more cooperation in the following areas to be able to confront the challenges we have.”
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Kelsey, how do we know so much?
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Well, Howard, I would love to say that Secretary Kerry has shared the details with me, but that's not quite true. As Daryl said, I have spent a lot of time in coffee shops in Vienna, but some of the parameters are actually very clear, or from the interim deal itself, in addition to sort of the time bound measures for negotiations on the comprehensive deal, the interim deal laid out some of the broad parameters of a comprehensive agreement in which Iran said it would ratify the additional protocol. It laid out that there would not be any re-processing of spent plutonium.
And then there are some other measures that have become clear over the course of the negotiations as negotiators from both sides have talked about the progress that has been made, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said fairly clearly that Iran has agreed to accept modifications to the Iraq reactor, both to reduce the power and change the fuel. And our work with physicists, particularly those up at Princeton, has given us some very clear insights on how the different modifications will change those outputs.
Regarding the uranium enrichment, I think that's where there still is the most ambiguity. But Secretary Kerry and the U.S. administration has been very clear about this one-year time frame. And that really can only be achieved in a deal that Iran would accept by a combination of these factors. It can't just be about reducing the number of centrifuges. It would be extremely difficult to get to a year. You'd be talking about only a few hundred machines. Iran is not going to agree to that.
So, it clearly has to be a combination of reducing the stockpiles and reducing the numbers of centrifuges. And again, there have been some indications about the paths that are being considered. Based on sort of comments that have come from Iranian officials and Russian officials, it looks like there are discussions about moving some of Iran’s stockpiles of reactor-grade uranium to Russia, or converting them into powder form that can be used for fuel, possibly later with sort of Russian assistance, then actually developing fuel themselves that can be fed into Iran’s sort of sole power reactor at Bushehr.
So, Kerry is right, nobody knows exactly what is in the deal in part because it isn't finished yet. But we have some fairly clear indications just from what has been discussed thus far.
Regarding sort of your question about sort of the region, I would certainly agree with some of the comments that Richard made. But I would also add that from a regional perspective, this is a deal that puts in place greater monitoring on Iran’s nuclear program and actually constrains it. And if you are Saudi Arabia, if you are Israel, if you're worried about Iran potentially producing nuclear weapons in the future, this is far better than no deal which results in an unconstrained program with less monitoring.
So, I think that looking at it from that perspective, that this is a way that also sort of safeguards regional security, is important. I mean, I do think that there could be in certain countries a newfound desire to enrich uranium, to develop sort of the same sort of hedging capability. But I think that that is something that needs to be looked at, that needs to be considered. But there are opportunities to stem that off.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. We have time for one or two more questions, so let’s go in the back and then we’ll come over here.
ALAN KOTOK: Thank you. Hi, I'm Alan Kotok with Science and Enterprise. You mentioned Russia. To what extent would an agreement depend on Russia's cooperation and to what extent is the deteriorating relationship with Russia, could that--
DARYL KIMBALL: Affect the deal?
ALAN KOTOK: Could that affect the outcome, yeah?
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. And then if we can, Shervin, maneuver yourself over here to the front row. And we’ll take two questions at once, thanks.
SAM CUTLER: Hi there, Sam Cutler, Ferrari & Associates. We mentioned here, and also the administration mentions, the danger of weakening the sanctions regime. But there's generally not a lot of follow through on what that would look like in practice. The impact of sanctions is to a large extent a risk/reward calculus from private sector firms that is often independent of any particular government preference for compliance. So could you describe a little bit more what sanctions breakdown would look like, particularly if the U.S. remains committed to robust enforcement posture?
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. So let’s try to address those two questions. Kelsey, you want to talk about the Russian angle quickly?
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Sure. You know, despite the tensions that the U.S. and Europe are having with Russia right now, Russia seems to be playing a very constructive role in the talks. And Russia's participation is extremely important. They provide the fuel right now for Bushehr, Iran’s sole reactor. And the assurance that Russia's on board with this deal and will continue to provide that fuel is very important. Iran and Russia have also signed sort of a joint memorandum about technology sharing that could allow Iran to develop fuel domestically for Russian-made reactors in the future. That's certainly of interest to Iran. And the future reactors that Iran is planning to build will be supplied by Russia in perpetuity.
So the Russia role has been very important, it’s been very constructive. And I think it’s worth noting as well that despite these increased tensions between the U.S., the EU and Russia, Russia has continued to implement all of the sanctions on Iran. Because even for Russia, a nuclear armed Iran is not in its best interest, and they remain committed to the goals of the negotiation.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Richard, Larry, you want to take this second question, please? Start out.
LARRY HANAUER: Go ahead.
RICHARD NEPHEW: Sure. Just a couple of thoughts. The way that sanctions have been certainly executed has been U.S. unilateral action imposing secondary consequences on people if they don’t comply. But that only tells a portion of the story. The way in which actual compliance manifests itself is by companies making a decision that they're going to play along. And in some circumstances, they’ve decided not to and we've had to actually go in and impose measures against them in response to that. In some circumstances, they have.
But all along, our effectiveness in terms of stopping actual bad behavior has been predicated on going to governments and saying, “We have a common interest here.” If you have to impose sanctions on somebody, that means the thing you wanted to stop has already happened and that has consequence. I think that no one who is actually thoughtful about the imposition of sanctions ever wants to have to designate anybody. And the reason why is when you designate somebody, you fail. That means that a transaction took place. That means that goods moved, that means that money moved, and that means that Iran has already gained the benefit, or whatever the target is of sanctions.
So effective sanctions posture is one where there are no designations at all because that means that there are no bad acts and no bad behaviors. If we are forced because of U.S. unilateral action that destabilizes this careful balance to start having to sanction every day some new company hither and yon, then basically we've lost already because that means the Iranians are going to be gaining a lot of benefits out of doing this. That means we're going to have lost the cooperation of partners to help enforce things. And that also means that we're then limited to what intel is able to catch, what people say, and what we're able to stop that way.
So, you know, the sanctions regime is not one that we just simply establish and walk away from it. It's one that requires careful pruning and careful management and careful execution. Those are all the things that you lose if people no longer think that what your stated objective is is your stated objective anymore. I think that's the real problem that comes with basically screwing up this fundamental balance of why we're doing sanctions and what end we're trying to achieve with them.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right.
LARRY HANAUER: I’d just note a couple of things, too. The issue of sanctions enforcement is not just an issue of putting penalties on one company here or one company there. It becomes a significant foreign policy and foreign relations issue. So for example, when we were pressuring China, India, Turkey, other countries to reduce their purchases of oil from Iran, we got significant pushback and there were a lot of compromises that were made in the negotiations with those countries. So if other countries become less resolved to enforce the sanctions, then we end up with a foreign policy challenge on our hands.
Secondly, I'd note that we depend on other countries’ support in the UN Security Council to maintain Security Council sanctions. And if support for the whole sanctions regime starts falling apart, then we may be left with U.S. sanctions that we're going to try to enforce vigorously but the Security Council sanctions could be dismantled. Or, we would be forced to veto the dismantlement of those sanctions which would isolate the United States even more. So then we end up with foreign policy challenges.
I'd also note, too, that under the U.S. sanctions, only companies seeking to do business in the United States are affected. So plenty of companies that have no operations in the United States, or can separate their U.S. operations out effectively, could still do business in Iran without being penalized in many ways.
And I would note an interesting historical comparison. In the late 1990s, I worked on Iraq policy at the Defense Department, and the sanctions under the UN sanctions that led to the Oil for Food program became a major albatross around the United States’ neck. We were the only ones arguing for a strict sanctions enforcement of restrictions that did things like kept pencils out of Iraq because the graphite could be shaved out of them and used for illicit purposes.
And so really, the United States was increasingly isolated at the UN and international fora and it really became a foreign relations and a public diplomacy disaster for the United States. So I don't think we want to be in a position where we're arguing increasingly--where we're sort of swimming alone against the tide pushing for sanctions enforcement when our allies and partners are saying, “Enough, enough with the sanctions. We've gone down this road too long and it’s not working and we need to change.”
DARYL KIMBALL: So I think that's also an important reminder of something that we really haven't stressed here today, which is that this is an international negotiation. The United States is not the only party across the table from the Iranians. It’s the EU, it’s the Germans, it’s the French, it’s the British, the Chinese, the Russians. And so we are also not alone in effecting the sanctions regime. We are depending on other countries to go along with us.
I mean, this is really something that I think is important for Congress to understand and think about. Their actions have to take into consideration the views of the allies, of our allies in this endeavor and what they are willing to do in the days and weeks ahead after, and if, an agreement is concluded.
And to conclude, we've run out of time. I want to thank each of our three speakers for great presentations today. I think it’s provided a very complete picture to this very complex issue that is at a key inflection point right now. We think that an historic deal is in sight. It is likely to be an effective one that holds back Iran’s nuclear weapons possibilities for many, many years to come. And it’s important for Congress, the American people, the international community, to make the right choices, the smart choices, on the basis of the realistic alternatives and the facts on the ground.
So please join me in thanking our speakers and there will be much more on this subject on the Arms Control Association website and in Arms Control Today, our journal, in the days and weeks ahead. So thanks for coming. [applause]