Press Call: Reaching a Deal with Iran

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Press Call: Reaching a Deal with Iran

Reaching a Deal with Iran 

DATE & TIME

Thursday, November 13, 2014
12:00PM ET

 

PRESENTERS

Laicie Heeley: Heeley is the Director of Middle East and Defense Policy, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. Her work focuses on weapons proliferation, defense analysis, and Iran. She has published several reports on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the effects of sanctions. Heeley has been a frequent contributor to CNN and her work has appeared in the Wall Street JournalWashington Post, and Foreign Policy.

General Shlomo Brom: Gen. Brom is a Visiting Fellow with the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress where he focuses on U.S.-Israeli relations, Middle East security issues, and the Iranian nuclear program. Brig. Gen. Brom is also a senior research associate at The Institute for National Security Studies and a former brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF. His most senior post in the IDF was director of the Strategic Planning Division in the Planning Branch of the General Staff.

Ambassador John Limbert: Amb. Limbert was the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran in 2009 and was a former hostage in Iran in 1979-80.  He was appointed Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006 after retiring from the Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor. Amb. Limbert was president of the American Foreign Service Association (2004-2005) and Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (2000-2003).  Earlier he had been Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the U.S. State Department. His overseas tours include: Algeria, Djibouti, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. He holds the Department of State’s highest award — the Distinguished Service Award and the Award for Valor, which he received after fourteen months as a hostage in Iran. Amb. Limbert holds his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Harvard University, the last in History and Middle Eastern Studies.

 

MODERATOR

John Bradshaw: John Bradshaw, J.D., is the Executive Director of the National Security Network. Prior to joining NSN, Bradshaw served as the Executive Director of the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress. Bradshaw served as Washington Director of Physicians for Human Rights. He also worked as a Senior Advisor at the Open Society Policy Center. Previously, Bradshaw was a Foreign Service Officer, serving in Venezuela, Brazil, and Burma, as well as in the State Department’s East Asia and Human Rights bureaus. He also served as a foreign policy advisor to Senator Paul Wellstone and to Senator Robert Torricelli, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier in his career, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. Bradshaw received his B.A. in Political Science from Yale University and his J.D. from New York University School of Law.

 

TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A PRELIMINARY TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED

To listen to the audio, click here.

The audio starts at 00:21:45 and ends at 01:11:15. 

BRADSHAW: Good afternoon, everyone. This is John Bradshaw, I’m the Executive Director of the National Security Network. Welcome to our press call today. As you know, we are closing in on the deadline of November 24th for the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, so today we have an excellent panel to help you think through some of the issues involved in the negotiations and the possible outcomes. We have three panelists, who will each speak for about 5-7 minutes of introduction, then we’ll go over to a Q&A session, and overall we should have about an hour for the call. Let me introduce to you our panelists: First, we have Laicie Heeley, who is the Director of Middle East and Defense Policy at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. You have longer bios of all the participants in your materials so I’ll just briefly introduce them. Laicie will give us an update on where the talks stand right now, talk about some of the possible scenarios for outcomes of the talks, and also then talk about what’s happening on Capitol Hill and possible congressional responses. Next up, we will have Ambassador John Limbert, who was the first Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran in 2009 and was a former hostage in Iran in 1979-80. He is a Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy. Amb. Limbert, who’s very familiar with Iranian politics, will talk about some of the internal issues in Iran, political impact of a deal in Iran, and what the Iranians expect from the deal, as well as other aspects which he is familiar with. Then we will turn it over to General Shlomo Brom, who is a former Brigadier General in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). He is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for American Progress. When he was in the IDF, he was the director of strategic planning, so he will be talking about the regional strategic impact of a deal as well as its potential impact on Israel and Israel’s security. So, we will move to the panelists, let me ask you please to mute your phones when you are not talking. When we get the Q&A, you don’t need to get into a queue, you don’t need to push any specific number, you just need to unmute yourself and ask a question. Please state your name and outlet so our panelists know who you are. So with that, I will turn it over to our first panelist, Laicie Heeley. Go ahead, Laicie.

LAICIE HEELEY: Thanks John, thanks for having me and thanks to everybody calling in today. As John said, I’ll talk a little bit about the status of negotiations right now, what we expect leading up to the 24th, also what’s going on in Congress, and what we’ve been hearing from the IAEA as well, as negotiations move forward. So right now, the United States and Iran have wrapped up two days of talks in Oman this Monday, which were followed by a full meeting of the P5+1 at the political director level. They will reconvene in Vienna on the 18th of this month and will continue on through the 24th, hoping to get a deal by that date. There was no press conference following the meeting this week, but Kerry did tell reporters during the photo session that the two sides were working very hard to come to an agreement. Right now, it’s hard to tell from any reports that are coming out, because they’re coming out on both sides saying every which direction of what’s going on in the negotiations, it’s hard to take any one report at its word for where the Iranians and the P5+1 are, largely because they’re still in the negotiating stage, so anything being said publicly could be meant to influence negotiations, and it all should all be taken with a grain of salt, eventually.

They’re in the final phase of reaching a comprehensive agreement, it does look like they should be able to come to one, but both sides are going to have to make some tough choices in the days ahead, so it’ll be interesting to see where they move from there. I am cautiously optimistic that they may be able to reach a deal, but I don’t expect any large breakthroughs to happen until at least the 11th hour. I think that we may see a very short extension. It’s possible, that as in many negotiations, the two sides will hold out as long as possible before coming to those tough choices, and really making those decisions, but it’s not in either side’s interest at this point, given political pressures at home, to have an extension that lasts very long. Congress will not be happy with that, and similarly, hard-liners in Iran would not be happy with that. So, the longer an extension, the less possibility, it looks like, unless we have an agreement that really comes to something that we might see, something like an interim agreement plus, something that’s very strong and allows the U.S. to gain a lot and the P5+1 to gain a lot, but also Iran to get some relief  in exchange.

In Congress, we already see that the Congress has just returned and they’re already talking about potentially moving forward with a couple of things. In the Senate, we are seeing a bill coming back from Senator Corker that would require an up or down vote on any deal that’s struck. The problem with this is that it would prevent State Department funds from being used to implement an agreement. This is a problem because the State Department funds the IAEA who are responsible for monitoring and verification, and who are the ones who are making sure right now that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon. The worst outcome of all of this is that the deal will fall apart, essentially the interim agreement would fall apart, and the IAEA wouldn’t have the great access that they have right now to monitor Iran’s program and make sure that they’re not doing anything that we don’t want them to be doing.

Another possible resolution in the House is related to Iran’s human rights violations, but we haven’t seen the text yet so we’re not sure exactly what that will be. Congress, eventually, when we do come down to Nov. 24, will have oversight over an agreement. The Administration has made it very clear that they want them to weigh in, they want them to also have a final  say regarding sanctions relief, but they don’t want to give Iran, essentially, the win that they would get if Congress were to take a vote and were to roll back sanctions completely, we wouldn’t be able to snap those sanctions back into place quite as easily as we would if the Administration were to start out by using its waiver authority to roll back those sanctions and then move towards eventually an official rolling back of those sanctions once Iran has proven that they can comply with the deal.

In terms of compliance, we’ve also had a recent update from the IAEA on Iran’s activities, a new report was released just last week. The report again confirms that Iran has complied with all of its obligations under the interim agreement. There was some concern over an IR-5 centrifuge that the interim agreement was not clear on. The Administration said that they did address this with Iran, because there was some concern in the media and from Congress, and that Iran has just to be safe, stopped operating that centrifuge.  So there should be no additional concern.

Separately, from the interim agreement, Iran has been pursuing a track with the IAEA where there remain some outstanding issues that Iran has agreed to address in the future. It’s unclear exactly when all this will be taken care of, but sometimes these two get wrapped together as one, and it’s important to realize that the terms of the interim agreement with the P5+1 , the ones that really are related to negotiations right now, those have all been upheld. But the ongoing investigation by the IAEA is moving a little more slowly than it was expected to. But that is a separate track and one that Iran has agreed to not in return for rolling back sanctions, but as a completely separate track with the IAEA. I will leave it there, and I’m happy to answer any questions on any of these that you might have at the end, and I’ll turn it back over to John.

BRADSHAW: Great, thanks very much Laicie. We will now hear from Ambassador John Limbert. Go ahead, Ambassador.

AMB. JOHN LIMBERT: I look at this and I see things moving in a positive direction, but I also see a lot of negatives as well. If you step back and think, in the last year and a half, particularly since the meetings in New York between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, and the telephone call between the two presidents, we have moved very far from where we were presumably stuck for 34 years. For 34 years, our attempts to make any changes in our relationship with Iran, to make it more productive, had always gone nowhere. And in a year and a half we are at least able to talk to each other, maybe not as friends, but able to talk to each other. We’re able to talk in a civil fashion, talks between Kerry and Zarif are described as productive and I cannot remember the last time that any Iranian or American encounter was described in those terms.

Having said that, the precedents don’t make me very optimistic, because of the history of U.S.- Iranian encounters has always been one of lost opportunities. You can list them, you could go all the way back to the first Bush Administration, you could talk about the cooperation over Afghanistan in 2001 which ended in the axis of evil, you could talk about President Obama’s opening to Iran in 2009 which seemed, which it took between 4-5 years for the Iranians to respond. So, it’s possible that at the end we’re going to look back at this as another opportunity that was lost, when either hardliners-opponents on both sides scuttled the deal, or the prevailing mistrust simply wouldn’t let the two sides get to an agreement which seems, objectively, would be in the interests of both.

The other piece of this is that this particular issue, the nuclear issue, it’s still difficult for me to understand why this particular issue has become the linchpin of the relationship. To me, this is one of the hardest issues between the two, and this is one that both we and the Iranians have chosen to focus on. And one reason it’s so hard is that each side is talking about different things. The Iranians are talking about their rights, their place in the world. This is a matter of national pride. If you read the accounts out of Tehran they refer to the discussions in these terms, they say “we need to safeguard our rights – we will make no deal that gives up our rights.” While on this side, we seem to focus on legal issues, on technical issues, and on obligations, and the risk is that we end up talking past each other and coming to a sense that “we are being reasonable, but they are not listening.”

We talked about hard-liners, we certainly have ours here, they certainly exist in Tehran. I just saw a story where the newspaper Keyhan in Iran, which reflects the views of the hardline groups, published a provocative picture of Foreign Minister Zarif shaking hands with Secretary Kerry in Muscat. Obviously that questions, in a way, the whole basis of 34 years of anti-American ideology. And the headline said that the Parliament has stressed the need to observe redlines in the nuclear talks and there was a letter signed by 200 members of the Parliament warning the negotiators, in other words, negotiators on the Iranian side that whatever agreement they come up with, it has to be something they can sell as safeguarding our rights. I will end there, and look forward to the discussions.

BRADSHAW: Thank you very much, ambassador Limbert. We will now turn the floor over to General Shlomo Brom, go ahead General. [37:19]

GEN. SHLOMO BROM: Thank you, John. When I am talking about region, I mean mostly the main concerned parties, which are Israel on one end and the Arab gulf states on the other end. Generally speaking about these parties I would say that there is very little optimism and many concerns. There is very little optimism concerning the possibility of concluding an agreement because the gaps in positions of the two sides seem very wide, and it is difficult to bridge it in the very short time that remains. Although there is always the possibility that the Iranian negotiators are playing kind of a chicken game, namely they’re waiting for the other party to blink, and if it will not blink, they may do it. But I think the general understanding is that the probability of that happening is not high, and because of that, the only way that the concerned parties in the Middle East can deal with the results of these negotiations is by trying to develop different scenarios and to think about the implications, and there are concerns in the three possible scenarios.

One scenario is that an agreement will be concluded. It will not be a full agreement, because of the short time, it will be an agreement only on the main principles and technical details will be discussed later. By the way, the same thing was done with the interim agreement. But the problem here is that the devil is in the details, the technical details – so an agreement on main principles says very little. And the concern in Israel and in the Gulf States is that it will be a bad agreement, maybe an agreement that will leave Iran with the capability of breakout in a short time.

The second scenario is a scenario of complete collapse of the talks, which would mean that they will not continue and then of course we are back to the beginning, and Israel will have to consider its next steps. There is a possibility that it will return to the idea of attacking the Iranian nuclear program. I don’t accept the common perception that it is too late and Israel doesn’t have the nuclear option. I think the Israeli political and military leaders believe that they have an option. It’s a problematic option that can have some very serious repercussions, but they believe that they have an option. And of course they will have to consider whether to continue building on the sanctions regime that will bring Iran back to the negotiations.

And the third scenario that for me looks currently as the most probable one, is that the parties will agree on continuation of the talks, based either on something like an agreement on some principles of the final deal or a new interim agreement, which will have to be a little bit different because the original JPOA – the interim agreement – was not built to last more than 12 months, and if the parties continue the talks, they have to think about some modification of the agreement that will relate mostly to the accumulated low-enriched uranium and to what is allowed or not allowed when it concerns the production and development of new centrifuges. And I think that I will end with that.

BRADSHAW: Thank you Gen. Brom. We will now open up the floor to questions. Please be sure to state your name and outlet, also keep your phone on mute when not speaking. You can direct your questions specifically to any one of the panelists or to the panel as a whole. So we’ll go ahead and open up the floor to questions, please go ahead.

BENNY AVNI (NEWSWEEK): Okay, couple of questions. First of all, there was a piece today in the Wall Street Journal basically suggesting that in order to press Iran a little more than we have -than the west has – that one way to do it would be to go after Assad in Syria, to indicate that there is a military possibility. What do you guys think of that idea? That’s the first one. The second question: In order to have an extension or renew the interim agreement, one of the things that wasn’t done in the first interim agreement last January was change the Security Council resolutions that basically say – Iran: zero enrichment, basically. Will there be a need to amend the security council resolution or come up with new ones?

BRADSHAW: Any one of our panelists just go ahead if you want to answer either of those questions.

HEELEY: [44:29] I am happy to speak to either or both of those. Taking the second first, on amending the Security Council resolutions: Iran’s right to enrich has been an issue throughout this process. There is a question of whether or not Iran has the right to enrich under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is in fact very vague on that issue and has been interpreted by Iran one way, and by others another way. I do not believe that there is anything that needs to be amended in order to keep Iran from getting zero enrichment.

The zero enrichment issue has largely been seized on by Congress as something that some members of Congress would like to see as part of a final deal, but has essentially never been considered as part of the negotiations and hadn’t been considered for many years. I think even Hillary Clinton in a hearing when she was Secretary of State backed away from the idea of Iran needing to go to zero enrichment or dismantle its entire program in order to come into compliance with its NPT obligations. The IAEA, I don’t believe, will be seeking something like that either.

As far as the Wall Street Journal article is concerned, I think that’s a very dangerous game for us to be playing. We are in a very historic moment right now as the Ambassador pointed out. We have not had this kind of discussion with Iran ever on the nuclear issue and I think to walk things back to a point where we are threatening them militarily rather than dealing with this diplomatically would be a large mistake on our part.

AMB. LIMBERT: [46:26] On the first point, I had not seen the story but one wonders where something like this comes from because this whole relationship, these negotiations, are already extremely complicated and something like this risks complicating it even more by setting the U.S. into a new conflict in the region.

GEN. BROM: As far as the idea of going after Assad as part of the Iranian negotiations I also think that it is quite a crazy idea. Maybe the U.S. should consider going after Assad, but for other reasons, but certainly it will not help the negotiations.

As to the zero enrichment, I think that everyone in the region – that includes Israel – understands that there cannot be an agreement that is based on zero enrichment, we passed this point a long time ago. Although, that is still the formal position of the government of Israel and it will not present a different position because the Israeli government believes once it gives up then it will give a signal to the P5+1 that they can even be more flexible than Israel is. So it prefers to be at all times at the extreme edge of a position on a possible deal. Israel will accept also a deal that includes some level of enrichment, but lessens the breakout period substantially.

And whether it would necessitate eventually, after an agreement is reached, a change in the Security Council resolutions, I don’t think it is so important.

BRADSHAW: Thank you General Brom. Just to clarify what Laicie said about the UN resolutions, there was never any requirement by the UN that Iran would not be able to enrich any uranium, but they were called upon to suspend their enrichment until they were in compliance with the IAEA regulations. It was always a temporary thing, which has been seized upon by people in Congress that say that the UN has said that Iran can never have an enrichment program. That is just not true.

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN (BLOOMBERG NEWS): Thank you very much for doing this. Two questions, I want to ask the speakers if there is any scenario that they see under which Iran would be permitted to keep its 19,000 – approximately – centrifuges including the 9,000 of those that are intact and operational?

Secondly, what chances do the speakers give to the idea of this Russian deal with ROSATOM? There have been two things that have been suggested building on this nuclear deal with ROSATOM that was recently announced, but also the idea that was floated in the New York Times last week about Iran shipping out its enriched uranium and Russia fabricating it into fuel. How much of a possibility is that for solving this issue?

GEN. BROM: [50:34] To the number of centrifuges, it is very difficult for me to assume the U.S. and the European parties in the P5+1 can accept an agreement without a meaningful reduction in the number of centrifuges that Iran can operate. It will be very difficult to market this kind of agreement either in the U.S., Europe, Israel or in the Middle East.

As to the idea of shipment of enriched uranium, it can be an important element of the agreement because that enables some play with the numbers of centrifuges that are operated  because the more you ship outside the country, the more centrifuges can be allowed to operate in Iran. Whether the story is true and is a probable agreement, I don’t know.

AMB. LIMBERT: Good question Indira. As I understand it, something similar was foreseen in the aborted 2009 agreement between Ambassador Burns and Jallili. Iran had agreed to that, it then apparently went back on the agreement, but it was not, I did not think it involved the question about shipping low enriched uranium to Russia.

LAURA ROZEN (AL-MONITOR): Gen. Brom, I am confused about the gap between the Israeli public’s ambivalence about a deal or partial deal or no deal and the “zero-zero-zero” policy and what they could live with? The Russian proposal that Indira mentioned – there are a variety of creative solutions that the U.S. has told the Israelis, the Iranians are considering and have shown some interest in or that they are considering accepting that would allow Iran to keep something like 4,000 or so centrifuges, and the Israelis after this meeting decided to start denouncing what they saw as the emerging deal that the U.S. thought would give a minimum of a one year breakout. You saw Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this week already start to denounce the emerging deal and say don’t rush into this, and you see Congress picking up some of what he’s saying. I am confused on what Israel really wants?

GEN. BROM: [54:07] What Israel wants is clear, the question is whether it is achievable. I think Israelis would like to see a lessening of the break out time to something like two years. That will be satisfactory from their point of view. But that does not mean they will not be able to live with a shorter break out time, because there is a difference between being dissatisfied because the deal is not good enough and taking drastic steps because of that. Because one has to understand that once an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is concluded, it will be very difficult for Israel to return to, for example, military threats and believe that they will be credible in such a situation.

ROZEN: But they are trying, it seems to me, to signal, especially members of Congress, to gear up, to make it very hard for the Administration to implement a deal, and it seems to be affecting the negotiations. If the U.S. can’t tell Iran they can permanently remove some of the sanctions that would be an agreement in return for Iran to take permanent steps to restrain its program, it makes it hard to close.

GEN. BROM: That is exactly, I think, the strategy of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He wants to retain this pressure over the U.S. Administration so they will not be, what is in his mind, too flexible. Once an agreement is concluded he will have to reconsider whether he is going to realize his threats, that he will use his influence, his ability, to make some members of Congress operate against the lifting of the sanctions and so on because he will have to consider the repercussions of doing that in a situation in which the relationship between the U.S. Administration and Israeli government is not at its best time.

BRADSHAW: Following Laura’s line of questioning, I think there is a question hanging out there. You mentioned Gen. Brom, some type of extension of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), with possibly additional funds being released to Iran and maintenance of the freeze they have had on their program, is looking more and more like a fairly likely outcome and we have heard some positive noises from Israeli officials and commentators, and also American hardliners, that that would not be such a terrible outcome. How do you think the government of Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu would react to that kind of twilight situation where we don’t have a deal but the talks are going on and the JPOA is extended in one way or another?

GEN. BROM: [57:58] It will not be such a bad outcome because the worst case predictions made when the JPOA was concluded, didn’t realize. As earlier discussed, the Iranians complied with the arrangement of the JPOA and the sanctions regime was not a… actually I think that the ones that have to be disappointed at the result of the lifting of some of the sanctions are the Iranians, not the P5+1, because the gains from the lifting were in my opinion much less than they expected because of different reasons. So I think that now there is an understanding that we can continue with an interim agreement for a longer time, although, as I said, I think the parties will have to consider some of the modifications of the interim agreement. Of course, Iran will ask for lifting of more sanctions, but the P5+1 should ask for regiments that will guarantee that the quantities of low enriched uranium that can be converted to a gasless form and can be further enriched are not too big and in this context one can think about the idea about shipping some of this material outside of Iran.

BRADSHAW: Thank you. Ambassador you had a comment?

AMB. LIMBERT: Yes, some of my Israeli colleagues following Gen. Brom’s analysis have come to the conclusion that the more extreme position on the Israeli side, the target is not Iran or necessarily stopping Iran’s nuclear program, the real target is the Obama Administration and an attempt to weaken it.

BRADSHAW: Do we have any additional questions from the press?

LAKSHMANAN: What the three speakers think the risk is of having an extension; because obviously now the Senate will be in the hands of the Republicans, they’ll be able to move the sanction legislation they want come January, and they will have the ability to tie the Administration’s hands in further negotiations. What are the risks of a delay?

AMB. LIMBERT: [01:01:34] Indira that is an excellent question for which I don’t have a very good answer, only to say that even with the Democrats in control of the Senate and partial control of Congress, it was always difficult for the President to get legislative backing for what he wants to do with Iran. What I worry about is how the Iranians might see this because the record of the Iranians reading of our political situation is about as bad as our reading of their political situation and they might misread it and think either “well if we hold out maybe we will get a better deal,” or “now we think the President is under pressure to make a deal, we can be tougher.” That can play a very destructive role. Whatever comes out to be, this is going to be a hard sell. The good part of this is I don’t see this being a big American domestic political issue. People in the United States, as far as I can see, very few of them base their votes on foreign policy in general or on U.S. policy towards Iran.

HEELEY: Amb. Limbert is absolutely correct. This has largely not been a big election issue, it has not been a big issue with the American people. In fact the American people largely support getting an agreement with Iran and even maintaining the interim deal. There was a recent poll as well that says that the Jewish-American population supports, something like 84%, getting a deal with Iran – that is a really important point.

It is also really important to note that any kind of extension is going to be very hard to sell, particularly a longer extension because it absolutely does run into all of these issues that Amb. Limbert pointed out. I think it is going to come down to two things if we get to an extension: how long the extension is, and what the P5+1 gets in return for what it gives up. And it will be scrutinized very closely and any ability to seize on an argument that we may have given up too much will be seized on. I think both sides will have to negotiate very carefully if they are considering something like this longer extension that we’re hearing more about.

REPORTER: To follow up on this, what do you think the effect if the Kirk-Menendez legislation passes? What will be the effect over the Iranians, over the whole tone of everything?

GEN BROM: [1:05:11] I think the effect will be very strong because the Iranians can conclude from it that either the President, the current Administration is too weak to reach an agreement with them, or to implement this agreement. Or what happens frequently is that the Iranians will adopt a conspiracy theory because for them, as Amb. Limbert already said, they don’t really understand the U.S. system, and I am not sure they understand the difference between the constitutional authority and the executive authority, etc. They might think it is all one big American conspiracy aimed at weakening them, and that will have little effect on the possibility of having further negotiations that will lead to an agreement.

HEELEY: To add on to that the perception by Iran that the President is too weak to uphold an agreement absolutely has already had an effect on the negotiations and Congress has played a big part in that. I think that it is very important that as long as negotiations are ongoing that the President be perceived as being able to implement any agreement that’s signed not only to Iran, but to our international partners that we depend upon to uphold the entire sanctions regime. We could essentially, by passing more sanctions, rid ourselves of all the successful sanctions that we have already passed and implemented by scaring away our international partners, if this comes to be seen as something the U.S. has done to scuttle a deal or the U.S. has done outside of its agreements with its international partners. If it is seen as the U.S.’s fault, then we will have a lot of problems with our international partners and upholding that regime.

AMB. LIMBERT: There is one good side to this. The history has been that whenever the U.S. and Iran ever got close to agreeing to something in the past, someone on one side or the other would do something unfortunate, say something unfortunate, and scuttle the whole process. We have seen this, the axis of evil speech, the …. [01:08:17] incident, and we have some other examples. What distinguishes this last period is that it appears that both sides have decided that this isn’t going to happen this time. We are going to stay focused on a goal and we are not going to let misstatements, unfortunate statements, whatever else, this kind of rhetoric derail the process. There is a determination this time that I haven’t seen in past negotiations. So Congress may do something, Congress may oppose the President, but if the Iranians want a deal badly enough they, by all signs, will pursue it.

BRADSHAW: Thanks Amb. Limbert. And let me just add that of course it would be a bad situation if the Menendez-Kirk legislation passed and there is no congressional support for whatever deal comes through, but President Obama still maintains the veto pen so unless there is a majority to override a veto, the President can decide that he wants to continue to waive the sanctions and he can waive and veto any additional sanctions. It would be a political standoff; however the President always intended to not go back to Congress to lift sanctions for three or more years until we had seen that a deal was working. So if he wants to play out that strategy of hanging tough with Congress and letting a deal work to the point where Congress is eventually disarmed a few years down the road, of course that would change if there was a Republican President in 2017, but there are a lot more options. Congress has a lot of power to undermine this deal but they don’t have all the power and the President has tools to fight back with.

Do we have other questions from reporters with the remaining time we have?

Thanks to Laicie, General Brom and Ambassador Limbert, and all the reporters that participated.  As I said, you should be in contact if you want access to the audio or transcript with Kate Brown the Communications Director at the National Security Network she is at kbrown@nsnetwork.org. With that we will end the call.

To listen to the audio, click here.

 

IN THE NEWS

For press inquiries please contact Kate Brown, NSN Communications Director, at kbrown@nsnetwork.org.

 

Photo Credit: Secretary of State John Kerry, EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sit together in Muscat, Oman, on November 9, 2014. [State Department Flickr, 11/10/14]

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