Diplomats from the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran are meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland in an effort to reach a political framework agreement for a comprehensive, long-term nuclear deal to block Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon.
The two sides have made significant progress on long-term solutions to many difficult challenges, but some gaps still remain. Even if and after a political framework agreement is concluded, the two sides will need to complete the detailed technical annexes associated with the implementation of the agreement.
On March 26, top national security and nonproliferation experts, as well as representatives from several national organizations supportive of an effective diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge, provided their perspectives on the status of the talks, the value and impact of the potential agreement, and the next steps for the White House and Congress.
- Samuel R. Berger, National Security Advisor to President Bill Clinton
- Robert J. Einhorn, former Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, State Department
- Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association
- Dylan Williams, Director for Government Relations, J Street
- Trita Parsi, President, National Iranian American Council
- Kate Gould, Middle East Policy Advocate, Friends Committee on National Legislation
- Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association (moderator)
Transcript by the National Press Club
DARYL KIMBALL: Good morning and welcome to this special Press Conference on the P5+1 in Iran nuclear negotiations. I'm Daryl Kimball. I'm Executive Director of the Arms Control Association. And we’re an independent research and policy organization dedicated to addressing and eliminating the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.
I'm joined here today at the press conference by several distinguished leaders who share our strong interest in the conclusion and successful implementation of an effective, verifiable, multiyear, diplomatic arrangement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. We’ve convened this event to underscore some of the chief reasons why such a deal is in U.S. and international security interests, why such a deal is widely supported by a wide range of experts and the American public, and to explain why Congress has a role in the process, but why Congress must be careful not to wreck the chances for success.
At this very hour, the United States’ top diplomats and technical experts and their colleagues from the P5+1 group, are meeting with their Iranian counterparts in Lausanne, Switzerland to try to conclude a political framework agreement by the end of this month. Late yesterday, senior U.S. official traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry said, and I quote, “We can see a path forward here to get an agreement by March 31.”
Indeed, the two sides are very close to a win-win outcome that the Arms Control Association believes would be a net-plus for nuclear nonproliferation, the deal that the P5+1 are pursuing. A couple of key issues that still must be resolved, it appears as though setting limits on research and development on advanced centrifuge machines remains one of the most significant technical hurdles. But our sources indicate that that issue is probably resolvable.
Getting to yes, however, is also going to depend on squaring the circle on how to revise and update the UN Security Council resolutions that relate to Iran’s nuclear program, and which are essential to the international sanctions regime and eventually sanctions relief and removal.
Now this morning, as I said, we’re honored to be joined by several very distinguished people here today. Starting with Samuel R. Berger, National Security Advisor for President Bill Clinton, who is here on my right. Bob Einhorn, former Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control at the State Department. My colleague, Kelsey Davenport, our Nonproliferation Policy Director. Dylan Williams, Director of Government Relations for J Street. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council. And Kate Gould, Middle East Policy Advocate with the Friends Committee of National Legislation.
So their full bios are in the packets on your chairs. Each of them, I want to stress, are speaking in their own individual capacity or on behalf of their own organizations. And after I invite Sandy Berger up to the podium for his opening remarks, we’ll hear from each of them for about two to three minutes, and then we’re going to be happy to take your questions on any of the issues relating to the talks, the role of Congress, or whatever.
So, it’s with great pleasure that I invite Sandy Berger to join us here. The podium is yours.
SANDY BERGER: When Daryl lined us up here, I felt like I was standing before the firing squad. Hopefully that’s not the case. In the full two to three minutes that Daryl has allotted me, let me talk about three issues: why I think this will be an agreement that enhances American security, what I see the alternatives being, and the regional context. Now, I stress there is no agreement. And the issues that continue to be negotiated are not trivial. They're significant. So you can't make a final judgment of an agreement that’s not final. But we’ll talk here on the basis of what we seem to know about the agreement.
Let me start with why I think the agreement will enhance American security. Many of these folks behind me, Bob Einhorn and others, are far more expert on the intricacies of nonproliferation. They can talk to you about breakout times and the additional protocol and all your questions about the technical and other aspects of nonproliferation. So I won't try to address that.
I would simply say, looking at it as a whole, I believe this agreement makes it more difficult for Iran to move towards a nuclear weapon than without the agreement. It stretches out the time that they would need to accumulate enough enriched uranium, both with respect to producing it themselves, and their stockpiles, to a point which should give us ample time to respond. It closes down, essentially, their plutonium production facility, which is another way in which they could make nuclear fuel. And it gives the international community unprecedented access, daily access to their nuclear facilities and their nuclear supply chain, not only for their declared sites, but they would be able to say, “We want to go over there. It’s not a declared site. But there's something fishy about it.” And so they’d be able to designate undeclared sites.
So, you know, for all those reasons, and let me just say one other thing, in terms of the duration, which has been widely discussed, I don’t know whether it’s going to be 10 years, 11 years, 12 years, it’s not going to be all-- each provision, I think, is going to have a different duration. But you know, the President, as far as I know, is not renouncing his commitment that if Iran seeks to develop a nuclear weapon, he will act. That survives this agreement.
So, at the end of, let’s say, 10 years, that still remains the commitment of the President, presumably the next President. So we’re not in a worse position 10 years from now, we’re essentially in the same position. Plus we’ll have 10 years of access to Iran, a lot more information about the nodes of communication and control and other information about potential target sets in Iran, which would enhance the ability for us to pursue a military attack. So for all those reasons, I think it makes it harder, more difficult for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
So what are the alternatives to this agreement? Well some say the alternatives to this agreement are war. Well, you know, I can conceive of a scenario in which no constraints, Iran rushes towards a nuclear weapon. Maybe they think we’re hell-bent on regime change. And we have to respond, as I think this President or any President would. I think that’s an unlikely scenario.
More foreboding, and I think maybe more likely, is that others in the region, the Saudis and the Emiratis and the Turks and others, seeing Iran with a nuclear capability, feel they need to acquire, buy, develop their own nuclear capabilities. So we have a Middle East, already really a tinderbox with three or four nuclear countries. That’s a very dangerous scenario.
But I actually think the most likely scenario is this. I think if these negotiations break down, it’s probable that Congress will pass new sanctions. And they’ve indicated that they would. I think that it’s quite unlikely that the P5, our negotiating partners, would go along with new sanctions. So from the start, we would break the unity that has got us to where we are.
Number two, I think it’s very unlikely that others in the world would go along with such sanctions. And the reason these sanctions that we have now have been effective is because they apply to all of Iran’s customers. So I think you know, we would have sanctions that would be-- would not demonstrate our strengths.
Third, I would go so far as to say that if negotiations broke down, unless we were able to keep the P5+1 together, and convince the world that negotiations failed because of Iranian intransigence, which won't be easy, given how far things have gone, I can see the sanctions regime just unraveling. There are a lot of countries in the sanctions regime, Japan, China, Korea, India, who don’t want to be there, who are there reluctantly because we leaned on them, who would like an opportunity to get out of them, who have less interest in the nuclear Iran than we do, and would like a pretext to say, “We were with you, but not any longer.”
Now there are some who say, “Well, we have unilateral sanctions. We’ll put our own sanctions on. And we’ll apply them exterritorialy, which we do now. So we’ll deny access to our market to Japanese banks if Japan violates these sanctions.” I find it very hard to imagine, in the context of sanctions that the world does not basically accept, that we’re going to proceed with an enforcement action against the Japanese Bank, backing it up with the proceeding in the Second District of New York, pursuing a Japanese-Chinese-Indian-European bank for violating these unilateral sanctions, which no one in the world supports. I think that’s just an empty threat.
So I think a reason to try, certainly not to accept an agreement that we don’t think is a good agreement, but to recognize that I don’t think you can sanction your way to a good agreement. These folks say, “Tough sanctions got them to the table. Tougher sanctions will get them to come back in a more compromising mood.” There's really no evidence that that is true. For eight years, Iran and Iraq were engaged in a bloody war, one million people killed, cost of $800 billion dollars. And they rode it out. So I don’t think much change that sanctions are going to help us get to a deal.
Last point I would make, I think this is quite important, I think it’s very important to see this agreement in a regional context, and not just in a bilateral context. The threat that Iran poses to the region is not simply a nuclear threat, it’s a broader threat. It's a threat of support for destabilizing its neighbors, supporting terrorist groups, seeking to dominate the region. We need this agreement, not in spite of those threats, but because of those threats.
Every one of those threats would be worse if Iran had a nuclear weapon. So if we can wall off the nuclear program, or put it over here for 10 years, 12 years, whatever, each of those threats is still there, but it’s less-- it’s less dangerous than if Iran is sitting with a nuclear weapon. And our friends in the region are quite alarmed by Iran’s activities, Saudis, the Emiratis, certainly the Israelis are watching, Syria, they're watching, Yemen, they're watching Iran maneuver. You know, there is an Irani, Rouhani. And we could hope that that Iran emerges. There's also an Irani, Soleimani, who seeks regional advantage.
So I think it’s very important that we, as we do this agreement, we also reassure our allies in the region and friends that we are committed to the stability of the region, to their security, and that we will support that. And not just rhetorically, but in concrete ways. And that our commitment is long-term to their security. Thank you.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thank you, Sandy. Bob Einhorn is next.
ROBERT EINHORN: Thank you Daryl, thanks all of you for coming. I just want to reinforce some of the points that Sandy just made. But first, I think it’s important to point out that, even though the negotiators have gotten much closer over the last couple of months, it’s not a foregone conclusion that they're going to be able to reach a political framework in the next week or so. Daryl mentioned some tough issues that remain. They're very hard issues. Both sides have staked out strong positions on them.
And I'm confident that the U.S. delegation is not going to settle for a deal that falls short of U.S. requirements. So, while we may hope that they will achieve their goal within the next several days, I don’t think you can take that for granted.
I’ll say a few things about the deal that seems to be emerging. In my view, it can effectively prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It’s expected to contain unprecedented, rigorous monitoring arrangements that are capable of detecting Iranian violations of the agreement, whether at declared nuclear facilities, or at covert locations. The agreement is also expected to contain a variety of constraints on Iranian nuclear programs that are capable of lengthening, from about two to three months, to at least one year, the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade nuclear material to build a single nuclear bomb. And that applies both to Iran’s enrichment program, as well as to its nuclear reactor at Iraq.
Now this one year breakout time would provide plenty of opportunity for the United States and others in the international community to intervene decisively, including with the use of military force, to prevent Iran from succeeding in breaking out and acquiring a nuclear weapon. As Sandy mentioned, the deal will be of long duration. We don’t know exactly how long, 10 years, 15 years, various durations have been mentioned. And some provisions may last beyond the fixed duration of the agreement.
But it’s important to recognize here that the expiration of the agreement does not constitute the expiration of the U.S. commitment to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons. I believe there will be important elements that continue beyond the duration. For example, Iran’s adherence to the additional protocol is likely to continue beyond, and perhaps forever. And this intrusive monitoring provided in the additional protocol would provide plenty of warning time for the U.S. and others to take decisive action in the event that it appeared Iran was moving toward the production of nuclear weapons.
Sandy mentioned that this notion that is held by many observers, that it’s possible to get a better deal than the one that’s currently emerging, by pulling out of the talks, walking away from the talks, ratcheting up international sanctions, and hoping that the additional pressure will persuade Iran to make concessions that they have been unwilling, so far, to make. I think this is an illusion. I think that if the United States is seen as passing up a reasonable deal, then our ability to get the International Sanctions Coalition to increase sanctions pressure, will essentially evaporate.
I was involved in trying to-- well, I think effectively--get broad international support for the sanctions regime. And we had a number of things working for us at the time. We had President Ahmadinejad of Iran making outrageous statements. But we also had Iran taking intransigent positions at the negotiating table. Our partners in the sanctions coalition agreed with us that we had to increase the pressure against Iran in order to motivate them to negotiate seriously. But, in a situation where the U.S. is essentially walking away from the table and asking our partners to ratchet up the pressures, I think it’s going to be very hard to gain their support, for reasons that Sandy mentioned. And I think very quickly, the sanctions regime would begin to erode.
And, once we were trying to strengthen sanctions to get our partners to ratchet up the sanctions, I think we can predict what Iran’s reaction would be. They would unfreeze the nuclear program that’s been frozen for about a year and a half. And they have plenty of opportunity to increase the number of operating centrifuges, introduce more advanced centrifuges. There are many ways in which Iran can substantially increase their enrichment capacity. And in so doing, they could reduce the breakout time from the current two to three months to a matter of a few weeks. And I think that would be a predictable result of our walking away from the table.
So I think it’s very important for critics of the emerging deal not to engage in wishful thinking about prospects for getting a much better deal. The emerging deal is not perfect. But no negotiated outcome gives each side everything it wants. But I think the deal that is emerging is a good deal, and it’s much better than the realistic alternatives that we face. Thanks.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thanks very much, Bob. Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association is next.
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Thank you. Iran has a nuclear weapons capability. They have had it since 2007. We cannot bomb it away. We cannot sanction it away. The best way to mitigate this threat is through a good deal that limits Iran’s nuclear program and puts in place stringent monitoring. As Bob just outlined, the deal seeks to push Iran’s breakout time from two to three months to over a year.
To give you a little bit of a picture about what that will look like, Iran will likely reduce its number of operating centrifuges by several thousand. It will cut down on its stockpile of enriched uranium that it keeps in country. It will have limits on research and development. And the efficiency of the centrifuges will also be limited.
This deal is often discussed and debated in the media in terms of the number of centrifuges. There is no magic number that ensures that a deal is good. It’s important to evaluate the entire package to see what that does to Iran’s breakout capacity. And a combination of limits on centrifuges, reducing the stockpile, and ensuring that international monitors will be able to detect immediately any deviation, is the best way to ensure those limits.
There are also technical solutions to block Iran’s pathway to nuclear weapons using plutonium. The Iraq reactor poses a risk, but it can be modified to ensure that the plutonium that it produces for weapons is less than one kilogram per year. A nuclear weapon requires usually at least four kilograms of separated plutonium.
So through these measures, we can ensure that Iran’s program remains limited and less of a threat. And it’s important to juxtapose that against the alternative. If the talks break down, if the United States, its P5+1 partners, or Iran walk away from a deal, Iran’s program will be unconstrained. And it will have far less monitoring than it has now. And, as a result, Iran will be able to move towards nuclear weapons much more quickly. That’s a far greater threat to the United States and a far greater threat to the region.
But reaching a good deal will also incentivize Iran to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into its past work related to military dimensions. That investigation has been stalled. But a good deal will incentivize Iran through phased sanctions relief, to provide the international community with the validation it needs to ensure that these activities are no longer ongoing, and Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
And again, when you consider that against the alternative, ambiguity about Iran’s past actions, this is a far-- it’s far better to get this deal than to hold out for a better deal, because as Bob said, additional pressure is likely not going to lead to greater concessions on the Iranian side.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Kelsey. Not only is there expert support for the emerging deal, but also public support from a wide variety of places. So Dylan Williams from J Street is here to speak a little bit about that.
DYLAN WILLIAMS: Thanks so much, Daryl and Arms Control Association for this opportunity to speak today. First of all, it’s important to note that the entire Pro-Israel community is united behind one goal, when it comes to the present diplomacy, and that is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is also the objective of President Obama and his administration.
The second and equally important thing to realize is that U.S. Jews and the larger Pro-Israel community share more than just this objective with the administration; we support their means to accomplish it. Eighty four percent of Jewish American voters would support an agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which allows for domestic uranium enrichment for verifiably peaceful purposes, 84 percent.
Now that figure may be surprising to many people because there is, in fact, a vocal and politically astute minority of our community which follows the lead of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu against any feasible agreement. What's important to realize about this wing of my community is that it is the same portion of the Pro-Israel and Jewish American community that is happy to paper over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s disregard and abuse of bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel special relationship, his rejection of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and his deeply troubling comments about Arab-Israeli voters.
The vast majority of Jewish Americans stand with Israel’s intelligence and security experts, the very ones that Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to prevent U.S. lawmakers from meeting with. Like them, we know that this is a choice between a workable agreement or a much less desirable alternative, which puts Israeli interests and lives at risk, as well as essential U.S. national security interests at risk. Support for a feasible agreement with Iran is therefore the most Pro-Israel position one can take.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thank you Dylan. And I'm also pleased to have Trita Parsi with the National Iranian American Council with us. NIAC has been working very hard on this issue. Trita.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you, Daryl. And thank you ACA for all that you’ve done in the course of the last 10 years to find a peaceful resolution to this conflict. This is about nonproliferation, but is also about so much more than just centrifuge and enrichment. In the next few days, the future of America and the Middle East will be determined. There is a path that carries the promise of peace, and there is a path that carries the risk of war. Ultimately, that is what this is about.
If the two sides manage to come to terms, both a bomb and a war will have been avoided. That is nothing short of historic, on par with the Camp David Accord of 1979 and Nixon’s trip to China. But never has a historic deal been struck without both sides agreeing to concessions and compromises that were as painful as they were necessary. Both sides have to give. Both sides have to adjust. Thinking otherwise is not only naïve, it’s dangerous.
Pursuing maximalist goals, or seeking to impose them on the negotiators, will ensure failure. What will determine history in the next few days is political will and courage. This is the moment where true leaders are separated from mere politicians. True leaders know that history will not judge them for the petty and desperate criticisms they faced, but rather for the courage that they showed when they grasped for a peace that appeared beyond the possible.
It is that courage we are now depending on to be able to choose the right path. Both sides are willing to walk away from a deal that doesn’t meet all their requirements. But let us not fool ourselves or kid ourselves what that actually means. Failure is not a return to the current status quo. It is a deterioration of the situation, politically, economically, and militarily. The voices of war have been somewhat quiet as of late. And that’s because of the ongoing negotiations. If the talks fail, rest assured those whispers will turn into roars.
For the American public, and perhaps even more so for the Iranian American public community, this is a nightmare we must avoid. Twelve years after President Bush declared, “mission accomplished,” Iraq is today a broken country, ravaged by sectarianism and ISIS barbarians. America is exhausted and looking for healing. Neither Iran nor America can afford such a mistake again. And the world will not forgive them if they do. That is why, in the days ahead, true leaders must rise up. Thank you.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thank you, Trita. And now Kate Gould from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Welcome.
KATE GOULD: Thank you Daryl. And thank you all for being here. It’s important to note that, at this historic moment that Trita described, people of faith in every corner of this country are cheering on our diplomats as they sprint toward the finish line of a final agreement. FCNL is a 72 year old Quaker lobby. And we work closely with mainline Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical groups and faith leaders, who collectively represent millions upon millions of Americans cheering on these negotiations.
So at the starting line of this diplomatic marathon was the Obama-Rouhani phone call, when President Obama took that unprecedented step of picking up the telephone and talking with the Iranian Head of State. That phone call, and the negotiations that have ensued and are continuing today, are a demonstration of this practice that every world religion advocates as the best way to resolve conflict, the sacred practice of dialogue.
As Pope Francis has said, “In the world, in society, there is little peace because dialogue is missing. Peace requires persistent, patient, strong intelligent dialogue, by which nothing is lost.” It is no wonder, then, why Pope Francis has been such a persistent, patient and strong supporter of the P5+1 talks with Iran.
In the last year and a half, since President Obama made what may well be the most historic phone call of our time, Quakers and other people of faith have generated more than 250 pro-diplomacy letters to the editor in every state in this country. And they have had meetings with nearly 400 congressional offices supporting the talks. When I meet with members of Congress, they often tell me they want to be more vocal, they want to be more supportive, but they feel like they don’t have the political space to do it.
So that’s why we bring in faith leaders who have broad-based constituencies in their state, in their district. And we have them meet with these members of Congress and talk about the moral imperative to preventing a war and preventing another nuclear armed nation. For example, we’ve worked closely with Bob Roberts, a pastor from an evangelical mega church in Keller, Texas, with 2,000 congregants. He was part of an interfaith delegation to Iran last year. He was also one of 440 faith leaders and other citizen advocates here, on Capitol Hill, as part of our National Diplomacy Works Lobby Day a few months ago.
Our diplomats have delivered us from the brink of war to where we are today, on the cusp of what could be a monumental breakthrough. And today, in every congressional district in America, faith communities are mobilizing to ensure that Congress does not sabotage this landmark opportunity to make this world a safer place for generations to come. Thank you.
DARYL KIMBALL: Thank you. Thank you very much, all of you, for your remarks. And now it is time for your questions. I want to ask those journalists with us here to start. And we’ll start with Barbara, and then we’ll come over here to the left. And please make it a good, concise question, and let us know who the question is directed towards. So a microphone is in your hands, Barbara.
Q: Thank you very much. Barbara Slavin from Al-Monitor.com and the Atlantic Council. Question I think may be for you, Bob, others who might want to weigh in. How much has to be written down of this political framework? Is it sufficient for there to be different versions, i.e. a P5+1 version of whatever they agree to inshallah this week, and an Iranian version, to stave off congressional action and more sanctions. Thanks.
ROBERT EINHORN: Well, I don’t know. We can talk later about what will be necessary to stave off congressional action. But in terms of the format for any political framework, I don’t think this is yet decided. I think this is one of the main issues that will be discussed this next few days in Lausanne. The administration is saying there must be specifics. There must be specifics that are shareable with the Congress and the American public. Whether this must take the form of a written document, or whether it can be briefed orally, I don’t think that’s been decided yet.
One thing I think we’d have to rule out is differing versions, an Iranian version and a U.S. version. I think they need to be speaking from exactly the same script. And they have to be very, very specific.
DARYL KIMBALL: Yes, Rachel. And there's another question over here.
Q: Hi. Rachel Oswald with CQ Roll Call. My question is for Trita, but also anybody else who wants to jump in. Could you talk a little bit about the dynamics in Iran and what actions by Congress, how they impact political realities there? And perhaps some things that members of Congress who are opposed to a nuclear deal or opposed to the deal that are taking shape, are not taking account of about what the realities are in Iran?
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Trita, why don’t you start. And maybe Bob can also handle that.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you Rachel. I think there has been somewhat of a misconception, the idea that Congress can play some sort of a bad cop versus a good cop role with the White House. I think the way this is perceived in Iran is quite the opposite. They're seeing not a good cop and a bad cop, they're seeing a President that they're fearing cannot deliver on the promises and the commitments that he is making at the table.
The sanctions that are so much at the center of these negotiations are, at the end of the day, not Obama’s to lift. Only Congress can lift them. And when Congress is coming out with letters such as that of the 47, what it does, it undermines the credibility of the President in the negotiations, which then ultimately weakens America’s negotiating position.
The Iranians have had a long track record of playing tit-for-tat. If you are seeing measures that are in the direction of more sanctions, the Iranians have tended to retaliate by taking measures of their own kind that obviously would be viewed upon very negatively over here. I think the fear is that this can end up being yet another one of these escalatory cycles in which a small step is taken here that is negative, responded to by a negative step over there, which then, of course, generates another negative step over here. And then suddenly, it’s out of control. And then, the entire deal is killed through the measures of 1,000 paper cuts. Not a single one of the steps are necessarily big enough to kill the deal. But, in their totality, they will destroy the atmosphere, the consensus, the momentum that has enabled us to reach this far.
DARYL KIMBALL: Bob you might have some thoughts on this? No? Let me just also get a little bit specific about one of the initiatives that is out there. Congress obviously has played a role. It will play a role. It must play a role. The question is, what kind of role? And is it a constructive role? What my organization believes, and I think the White House is also in agreement, is that while these negotiations are in their final hour, it is vital that there aren't further disruptions, further turbulence in the talks. I mean I agree with Trita that the letter from the 47 Senators to the Supreme Leader was not helpful. It took up a lot of time in the last round of talks. It made the P5+1 position a little bit more difficult to maintain.
So there is a bill, actually a couple bills out there, one from Senator Bob Corker, S615, that on the surface looks pretty innocuous. But it is a little bit more complex and a little bit more problematic. He has said that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a markup hearing on that bill on April the 14th. That is still going to be during the period when the negotiators, even if they reach a political framework agreement, are working hard to finalize the technical annexes to nail down all of the details to make sure that there isn't any difference of opinion about how to interpret the political framework agreement.
There is no reason for Congress to act before June 30th, when the talks are supposed to conclude. It’s even better for Congress if it wants to play a role in monitoring and requiring the President to certify certain things that they write the legislation after the deal is done and not before. The Corker bill includes some certifications that are slightly outside of the nuclear channel, particularly with respect to certifications that Iran is not engaged in terrorism.
So I think Congress needs to think very carefully about its role. There are some who would simply like to blow up the talks. There are some who would legitimately like to reinforce the diplomatic effort and to make sure that, if it succeeds, Iran is complying. But the first priorities should be, you know, first to do no harm. And I think that means not taking action during this period of negotiations, which technically is going to continue through June 30th.
Do we have other questions? Yes.
Q: Jessica Schulberg Huffington Post. This is mostly for Dylan, but for anyone else. You were mentioning that 84 percent of American Jews do support what the negotiator agreement looks like it’s turning out to be. Can you discuss at all-- I know that there is a lobbying day after the conference this week. Can you discuss discussions you’ve had with lawmakers? It seems to me that a lot of lawmakers see support for the Corker bill, sanctions as part of a Pro-Israel stance. Can you discuss your efforts to show that that’s not necessarily the case?
DYLAN WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Thanks for the question. Yes. Yesterday was the culmination of J Street’s recent 5th National Conference, where we had an Advocacy Day attended by around 700 supporters of J Street who had over 165 meetings, I think, with members and their staff on Capitol Hill.
The message that the Pro-Israel/Pro-Peace community is overwhelmingly in support of a feasible agreement of the type being likely negotiated right now, was one of the key messages we brought. And it was, as you might imagine, well received by overwhelming number of Democratic members and more than a few Republican members as well.
Members of Congress expressed to our supporters what they have been expressing for three, four, even more years on this issue, which is, they have two overriding objectives when it comes to deciding on bills and policy letters on this issue. The first is they want to do what is genuinely in the essential security interests of Israel and the United States. And the second is that they want to avoid another costly war in the Middle East that will cost American taxpayer dollars and, more importantly, the lives and wellbeing of our men and women in uniform. Those two concerns remain paramount for them.
And it is the prism through which they view things like the Kirk Menendez sanctions bill, which I think has lost a lot of its steam as a deal becomes more likely, though not certain. And, as Daryl was mentioning about the Corker-Menendez bill, you do have an overwhelming sense from Congress that they want a very serious oversight role in the implementation of this agreement. And that’s something that J Street and others in the Pro-Israel community strongly support.
But, at the same time, I do think you have members of Congress, and particularly Democratic Senators, recognizing that premature or precipitous action on a bill, which may not quite yet be ready for prime time in terms of some of its language, would be unhelpful. And I think that’s why you did see the Democratic Senators provide the administration the space, at least until April 14th, and I share some of Daryl’s concern that even if there is a political framework agreement by that time, a final agreement is, by no means, in the bag. There is a lot of legal scrubbing to do. And the devil can be in the details.
But yes, overwhelmingly, members of Congress do want to do what is in Israel’s and the U.S. essential security interests. But, at the same time, they recognize that, if they can't resolve this diplomatically, the situation we’re going to end up in much worse than that outcome.
DARYL KIMBALL: Let me also ask Sandy Berger to put this issue of the role of Congress in a broader context. Sandy.
SANDY BERGER: Yeah. I understand full well Senator Corker’s desire to vote on this in a real sense. And I think that, at some point, the administration is going to have to deal with that. But this bill is directed at this President and this agreement. But it establishes a proposition that doesn’t go away when this Presidency is over and this agreement is done. It establishes the principle that the President does not speak authoritatively for the United States during a negotiation. That’s a dangerous proposition.
Countries around the world rely upon the word of the President as a representative of the United States in negotiations. China is watching this. Our countries in Southeast Asia are watching this around the world. So, if you weaken this President in this context, you weaken the Presidency in all contexts. And you know, by electing the next President, that doesn't wash away. It’s a very, very serious, I think, erosion of the power of the Presidency.
You know, it’s a very dangerous, messy world out there, as you all know. We need all the authority we can bring to the table as we’re trying to put coalitions together against ISIS, or we’re trying to put coalitions together against Russia. We don’t need our potential friends, let alone our potential adversaries, to wonder whether or not the President is talking for America, or whether or not perhaps there is an asterisk next to what he says, and they can't count on the President. That’s our system. And it’s served us pretty well, very dangerous, I think, to tamper with.
DARYL KIMBALL: And Rachel, one other point I would ask you in your reporter capacity to raise with Senator Corker is: why the bill that he has put forward is not being pursued through regular order? Why go straight to a markup? I mean as Sandy just said, this would be a precedent-setting bill. And that kind of legislation deserves a full hearing, testimony from the administration, from experts, a thorough scrubbing. But that's not what's being proposed. In fact, there was an idea put forward by Senator McConnell, Majority Leader that the bill would go forward even faster in March. But that was--they changed their mind eventually.
So there does seem to be a bit of a rush with this. So whether you agree with the merits or not, this is the sort of thing that deserves a full hearing and a careful, careful review. Other questions? Yes, right here. Howard, thank you.
Q: Thanks. Howard LaFranchi with the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Berger you, in your opening remarks, you focused on the regional impact. You focused on the regional impact of a deal. And so I'm wondering how you would respond to actually those who say that on the contrary, that a deal will set in motion very quickly kind of a rush to a nuclear Middle East, starting off with the Saudis. And then I’d also like to ask Kelsey if you could go into a little bit more detail on the question of previous military research and work by the Iranians, because there's so much talk, now, about how the U.S. is backing off on its demands’ earlier requirements for that aspect. And so I don’t know if you have any idea of where that stands now, and why that's important.
DARYL KIMBALL: So I’ll ask Sandy to address your first question, also Bob, and then we’ll go to Kelsey.
SANDY BERGER: Well first, I think the absence of a deal will more likely drive them to buy or acquire nuclear weapons, because they’ll have an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program. But you're right. I think they are nervous about Iran, which is why I think there needs to be a company deal, very close work with those countries, to assure them that we have a commitment to their long-term security.
I think that’s why I'm saying, it’s got to put this in a regional context, I think, for this to not stimulate those concerns on the part of-- But all of their concerns are worse if Iran has a nuclear weapon. And I think they understand it. What they're really concerned about is that we are going to realign with Iran in a fundamental way. We’re going to go back to the days when it was us and the Shah. And that’s their fear. There's going to be another U.S.-Iran axis. And they're going to be over here. That’s their primal concern. And we have to address that. We have to make clear we’re not embracing Iran. We’re not accepting Iran’s conduct elsewhere. We’re very clear-eyed about this. And we’re going to work with our traditional allies to deal with their concerns.
DARYL KIMBALL: Let me ask Bob Einhorn also to address the regional proliferation risk issue.
ROBERT EINHORN: There's been a lot of speculation about a cascade of proliferation in the Middle East. I think whether or not the Middle East is going to become more nuclear depends on several factors. One, perceptions of the deal. First of all, is there going to be a deal? And I agree with Sandy. If there's not a deal, I think this will heighten concerns about Iran’s behavior. If there is a deal, then they will evaluate the effectiveness of the deal in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And, to the extent that they see it as an effective barrier to an Iranian nuclear bomb, they're going to be much less inclined to have an interest in their own nuclear capability.
Second is Iran’s behavior. If Iran continues an aggressive effort at achieving regional hegemony, I think this is going to increase concerns among Iran’s neighbors, and increase their incentives for seeking indigenous nuclear capability. A third factor is the role of the United States. If the U.S. is perceived as maintaining a strong regional presence, a strong regional military presence, if it’s perceived as being a reliable security partner, committed to assisting its partners in the region and ensuring their own defense, then I think there will be much fewer incentives for indigenous nuclear capabilities.
And fourth, and finally, is a question of feasibility. Even if countries develop a heightened interest in having nuclear weapons, they have to have the ability, somehow, to acquire them. And the indigenous technological infrastructures in the region are not very great. It would take most of the countries of the region, you know, a long time. And they would require lots of foreign assistance if they were to develop the indigenous capability.
I know there's been speculation about Saudi Arabia and whether they would get support from a longstanding friend to acquire nuclear weapons. But I think you have to take this speculation with a grain of salt. It’s not at all clear that the Saudis would be able to get the necessary foreign assistance including even the transfer of a nuclear bomb. So I do not think a cascade of proliferation in the region is inevitable.
DARYL KIMBALL: Let me ask Kelsey to address the PMD issue. And if you don’t know what PMD is in the context of Iran, please check out www.armscontrol.org. Kelsey is the author of our briefing book. And there is a second on the possible military dimensions issue. Kelsey.
KELSEY DAVENPORT: Howard, that’s a great question. But the P5+1 deal with Iran is not going to let Iran off the hook on answering these questions and resolving the IAEA’s concerns. November of 2013, Iran and the IAEA signed a framework of cooperation in which Iran pledged to answer all of the 12 areas of concerns about its past work potentially related to military dimensions. And a deal will incentivize Iran to follow through on that.
Sanctions relief will likely be offered as Iran continues to meet those milestones in the agency’s investigation. And really, reaching an agreement helps ensure Iran that it is not going to be penalized for its past activities, because Iran knows that, until it resolves these issues to the agency’s satisfaction, its program will never be declared exclusively peaceful by the international community.
So resolving these issues really is in sort of Iran’s best interest. But what I think some policymakers critique about the deal is that they say, “Well how can we put in place a monitoring and verification mechanism that ensures that Iran is not continuing these activities if we don’t know what's been done in the past?” But the P5+1 is pursuing an intrusive monitoring and verification regime that will give them broad access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, including some of the undeclared facilities and areas where they do not currently have access. It will include likely far greater measures related to accountancy and transparency. And putting these measures in place ensures that Iran will not be pursuing these activities in the future. And that’s far more important when we consider the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. A couple other-- Trita, did you have something to add on the previous question?
TRITA PARSI: I think Sandy is of course right that this is largely about where the U.S. will be with Iran vis-à-vis the other countries in the region. And I think Bob is quite right when it comes to questioning whether the assumption that the other countries in the region would automatically pursue a bomb. But I think there is a glaring contradiction that needs to be addressed in this speculation, which is, how is it that those who raise these issues believe that the United States, who has no presence in Iran, no trade with Iran, has the power to be able to completely eliminate any cascade, any centrifuge in Iran. But, if a country like Saudi Arabia, who is dependent on the United States on its security, decides to go for a nuclear bomb, the United States would stand completely helplessly. That contradiction needs to be addressed before any of the speculation can really be engaged in. Thank you.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Up here in the front, please.
Q: Medea Benjamin. I wonder why the context of all of this is that Iran is so evil and Saudi Arabia is our great ally. And I wonder if what's happening now in Yemen might really blow things up and affect these nuclear talks. And one other thing. Why do we never talk about Israel’s nuclear weapons in the context of this negotiations.
DARYL KIMBALL: At other press conferences we will talk about Iran’s nuclear-- or Israel’s nuclear weapons. But let me also just see if there were a couple other questions at the back. We’ll take a couple at once. Jim over here on the left please, and then back up front.
Q: Jim Loeb, Interpress. Actually, kind of following on what Medea asked. On the regional implications, the opponents of the deal seem to be focusing more and more on Iran’s alleged hegemonic, if not imperial ambitions. In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen some rather dramatic things happening, including the Yemen situation in which apparently the United States acquiesced. And also, the United States beginning bombing around Tikrit. And I want to know, basically, what panelists, especially Mr. Berger and Trita think about the implications of both of these actions happening so close to each other.
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Sandy, you want to try to take the first question?
SANDY BERGER: I'm sorry, I just wasn’t able to hear the specifics of your question. Just in eight words?
Q: I’ll try. Opponents of the deal are focusing on Iran’s alleged hegemonic ambitions in the region. And we’ve just had these very dramatic events with respect to Yemen and Tikrit. And I wondered what the implications of those are.
SANDY BERGER: Well, to address why do we focus on Iran and not Saudi, why is Iran the bad guy and Saudi is the good guy. You know, I don’t think it’s a question of good or bad. Iran is engaged around the region in efforts to destabilize the region. So it’s supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. It’s supporting Hezbollah in Syria. It’s supporting Hamas in Gaza. It’s supporting the Houtis in Yemen. This is not ideological, this is just true. It’s facts, okay.
Q: Who does Saudi Arabia support?
SANDY BERGER: Well, Saudi Arabia is supporting some of the extreme Islamists, although I think they’ve cut back substantially, in Syria particularly. I don’t want to absolve Saudi Arabia. I'm not putting it up on a pedestal. I think Iran’s intent is, at this point, more hegemonic, more an effort to dominate the region than anybody else. I think that is part and parcel of what they expect to do. And I think you look around the region, I think that’s the case.
Now will that change? Hopefully it will. Will this agreement stimulate the forces inside Iran that there be an offset and a counter to those forces? Hopefully it can. That would be a terrific thing. We’d be open to that. We’d respond to that. But I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the activities around the region if you go from Yemen to Lebanon to Syria. And you know, it’s fundamental effort to also unseat the current order of things.
DARYL KIMBALL: But to stress one of the points that I think have been made a couple times, I want to make it again, this is a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran about the nuclear program. And as Sandy was saying in your opening, these issues, these problems in the region would only be worse if Iran’s nuclear program is unconstrained and less monitored. Let me ask if there are any other reporters who have got questions. And then we’re going to have to wrap up shortly. So with Gareth, and then we’ll go to the back for the second.
Q: Gareth Porter, independent journalist. I’d like to ask about the prospects for a framework agreement in the coming week, in light of the statements that have been made by both Iran and the P5+1, or at least diplomats associated with the P5+1 in very recent days, taking as I think Bob Einhorn said, very strong positions on specifically on the question of sanctions relief. The Iranians saying that there must be a lifting of all sanctions, the P5+1 making it clear that they intend to insist on phasing gradually what they call sanctions relief over a number of years.
So my question is, what is the scenario that is conceivable at this point, even conceivable, let alone likely, for an agreement that would allow this framework to be forged in the coming days?
DARYL KIMBALL: Good question. We’ll see if we have something of an answer. Bob.
ROBERT EINHORN: I think if Iran insists that all sanctions be permanently terminated at the outside of implementation of the deal, there will be no deal. The U.S., its partners are simply not prepared to agree to that. The U.S. and its partners support an approach where there is a phased easing of sanctions based on Iranian performance. In the first instance, milestones reached in implementing constraints on its nuclear program. But also, satisfying IAEA concerns about Iran’s past behavior, and as well as the need for the IAEA to reach a broad conclusion that Iran is fully in compliance with its obligations.
So the easing of sanctions is going to have to be phased. And if Iran insists on immediate termination of all sanctions from the outset, there simply won't be a deal.
DARYL KIMBALL: And I would also just observe, and as Bob has seen this in his time as a negotiator, both sides of the negotiation make statements about issues in the talks that are often designed to be heard by their domestic audiences. And so they are negotiating a bit in public and repeating core positions. It’s clear that the two sides are at an end phase, with respect to these negotiations. The Iranians understand, I think, the position of the P5+1 that Bob just outlined. I think the point of those statements is to encourage the P5 to agree to the fastest possible sanctions relief, greatest amount of sanctions relief.
I am aware that the P5+1 proposal would deliver very significant relief through the form of waivers for the Iranians that would be very beneficial. The issue of UN Security Council resolution revisions and changes is going to be a longer process, I think, that is related to Iranian performance. And one of the reasons why the 47 Senators’ letter was unhelpful, was disruptive, was that it reinforced Iran’s concern that the United States could not deliver on eventually lifting and removing U.S. sanctions. And so that put a greater emphasis for the Iranians on achieving something in the UN Security Council channel.
In addition, one of the other reasons why the Corker bill could be problematic if it moves forward during the talks is it would delay, by at least 65 days, the President’s waiver-- existing legislative authority to waive sanctions. And that could delay his ability to deliver on quick sanctions relief through these waivers in response to very quick Iranian actions on nonproliferation.
So this is, I think, I'm just trying to explain this by way of saying it’s very complex. They're in a late phase. And it’s important for Congress not to try to impose certain conditions that affect the delicate dynamics in Lausanne.
So I think we’ve got time for one more question in the back, if you could take the microphone.
Q: Negar Mortazavi, independent reporter. I think this is a question of millions of Iranian citizens, which have been waiting for a year for about two years. The question used to be whether there would be a deal or not. And I think now the question is whether this deal will continue, and what would be the obstacles to maintaining a deal if Congress will try to sabotage this or any of the other opponents in the region, in the U.S. specifically, how would they try to sabotage it? And what would be the obstacles? And what are the guarantees?
DARYL KIMBALL: All right. Well let me take a quick stab at that. I think it’s a very good question. But that may be the next press conference in about six months, because I mean, that’s actually several different difficult questions that are hard to answer at this stage, except to say that, you know, there's no political decision in Washington that is ever final. There is no international political resolution that is ever completely final. This agreement, if it is concluded in the next few days and weeks and months, is going to require vigilance. It’s going to require both sides complying and implementing. And there will be obstacles. There will be problems. How that plays out is yet to be seen.
But I think several of us have said here, I mean this is an enormous opportunity, both from a nuclear and nonproliferation perspective, this would be one of the greatest and most consequential nonproliferation achievements if the P5+1 position is maintained in this negotiation. It would have enormously beneficial results with respect to international security, as well as regional security.
So it is important for the negotiators, for policymakers in Washington, Tehran, other capitals, to recognize the costs and the benefits, and to seize this historic opportunity, and not to inadvertently or purposefully undermine it.
Is there anyone else who wanted to add to that? So I think we are at about an hour. I think we’ve had a very good discussion here. And I want to thank my fellow speakers very much for their insights and their comments. And we will be in touch with you in the coming days and weeks. If there's anyone on the panel here who you want to get in touch with, you can reach them directly. The Arms Control Association can also help facilitate that. Thank you very much for being here today.