Press Call: Showdown with Iran
Showdown with Iran
Monday, January 26, 2015
10:00 AM EST
ABOUT THE CALL
In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama told Congress that he would veto any sanctions legislation against Iran, stressing that such action could possibly lead the United States down the path of war with the Islamic Republic and all but destroy the diplomatic efforts being made to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful.
As a showdown in Congress begins over whether to implement further sanctions against Iran, the National Security Network invites you to join us for a press call with Iran nuclear experts Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for New American Security, Dr. Edward Levine retired senior professional staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and Alireza Nader of the RAND Corporation.
Ilan Goldenberg: Ilan Goldenberg is Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to CNAS, Mr. Goldenberg served as the Chief of Staff to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations at the U.S. Department of State. From 2012 to 2013, Mr. Goldenberg served as a Senior Professional Staff Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee covering Middle East issues for Chairmen Kerry and Menendez. From 2009 to 2012, Mr. Goldenberg served first as a Special Advisor on the Middle East and then as the Iran Team Chief in the Office of the Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. Prior to that, Mr. Goldenberg worked as Policy Director and was one of the founding staff members of the National Security Network – a progressive nonprofit foreign policy organization dedicated to a pragmatic and principled foreign policy. Mr. Goldenberg is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program and George Washington University’s Elliot School of School of International Affairs. Mr. Goldenberg holds a B.A. in international studies from the University of Pennsylvania, a B.S. in economics from the Wharton School of Business, and a master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Dr. Edward Levine: is a retired senior professional staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), which he served from 1997 until 2011. Before that, he was a professional staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) from 1976 until 1997. Dr. Levine was the SFRC’s lead Democratic specialist on arms control, nonproliferation, and U.S arms sales to other countries. He played a major staff role in the Senate’s consideration of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the Moscow Treaty, the New START Treaty, and the U.S.-India nuclear agreement. He also helped to oversee and to maintain funding for U.S. nonproliferation programs and U.S. contributions to the IAEA and the CTBTO Preparatory Commission. Dr. Levine served both Republican and Democratic members of the SSCI. One of his roles was to write or co-author the SSCI’s assessments of U.S capabilities to monitor compliance with SALT II, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the Threshold Test-Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Prior to working for the U.S. Senate, Dr. Levine taught political science at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and at Rice University. He received his B.A. in political science from the University of California (Berkeley) and his M.A. and Ph.D. in international relations from Yale University. Dr. Levine is a member of the national advisory board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and the leadership of the Nuclear Security Working Group. He has written analyses of previous legislative proposals regarding Iran’s nuclear activities.
Alireza Nader: is a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and author of Iran After the Bomb (2013). His research has focused on Iran’s political dynamics, elite decisionmaking, and Iranian foreign policy. His other RAND publications include The Days After a Deal with Iran: Continuity and Change in Iranian Foreign Policy; The Next Supreme Leader: Succession in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Saudi-Iranian Relations Since the Fall of Saddam: Rivalry, Cooperation, and Implications for U.S. Policy; The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps; and Mullahs, Guards, and Bonyads: An Exploration of Iranian Leadership Dynamics. His commentaries and articles have appeared in a variety of publications and he is widely cited by the U.S. and international media.Prior to joining RAND, Nader served as a research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. He is a native speaker of Farsi. Nader received his M.A. in international affairs from The George Washington University.
John Bradshaw: John C. 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. He is a commentator on national security, politics and foreign affairs. His work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, the Washington Monthly, and the Asia Times. He is a frequent guest on radio and television including appearances on C-SPAN, Al Jazeera America, Sirius/XM, the Thom Hartmann Program and Newsmax.
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.
Please note that the audio starts at 00:17:48 and ends at 1:08:23
JOHN BRADSHAW, NSN: [Introduction at 00:17:48] Good morning everyone, I am John Bradshaw, the Executive Director of the National Security Network. This morning we are hosting a call on the Iran nuclear negotiations. We will talk about what is happening on Capitol Hill with legislation that’s been circulating as well as where the negotiations stand and any other issues you want to ask about.
We have three panelists, they will each give a brief presentation of five minutes or so, then we will have the rest of the call for a full hour of Q and A. Whenever you are ready to ask a question there is no need to push any buttons or get in any queues, just go ahead and ask your question. When you do please state your name and outlet and remember to keep your phones muted when you are not speaking.
Our first panelist is Dr. Edward Levine. Ed is a retired senior professional staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). Before that, he was a professional staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), his total career there was from 1976 through 2011. Dr. Levine was the SFRC’s lead Democratic specialist on arms control, nonproliferation, and U.S arms sales to other countries. Our second panelist will be Alireza Nader who is a senior international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and author of Iran After the Bomb (2013). His research has focused on Iran’s political dynamics, elite decision making, and Iranian foreign policy. Our third panelist will be Ilan Goldenberg, a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Prior to that position, he served as the Chief of Staff to the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations at the U.S. Department of State.
Ed will lead us off talking about the pending legislations, the Kirk-Menendez legislation, some of what that does and the problems with that legislation as well as some other legislative ideas floating around on the Hill. Then we will turn it over to Ali who will talk about how the Iranians might react to any legislation, and the political situation in Iran and where they see the negotiations. Then we will turn it over to Ilan Goldenberg who will look at the negotiations overall – possible outcomes and where the trend-lines are there – and his perspective from the State Department and he also will talk about how the Israelis are dealing with the situation, of course some of the controversy with what has been happening with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Let us start. I will turn it over now to Ed Levine who will give us his presentation then we will go through the panel.
DR. EDWARD LEVINE: [20:52] Good morning. The Kirk-Menendez bill is a good example of the principle that it is really difficult to come up with a bill that helps the negotiations rather than harming them. You may recall that last year the Menendez-Kirk bill, S1881, purported to help the negotiations but it basically would have imposed further sanctions on Iran unless the Administration adopted an approach to the negotiations that called for dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Well, this year Menendez tried to come up with something better and it probably is better than last year’s, but it’s still not good. So an example of what he’s not doing, he’s not saying that you have to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and he’s not saying that we should support Israel if Israel attacks Iran, but what he ends up doing is having a “sense of Congress” resolution in the first part that still hints at dismantlement rather than more complicated measures, and that says all instruments of power should remain on the table to prevent the government of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon capability.
Now there are two problems to something like that. One is that even though it’s in a “sense of Congress” provision, most people in the world don’t understand the difference between that and actually setting policy, and so it would be interpreted, I think, by large sectors of the Iranian public as meaning that Congress still wanted to be ready to go to war with Iran. And secondly, there is the emphasis on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon capability. If you look at what the Administration says, it says “we will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” But when you talk about capability, arguably Iran already has a nuclear weapon capability in the sense that it already knows how to enrich uranium and various experts have opined that Iran has spent so many years thinking about nuclear weapons that it probably has had time to solve the other problems that come up in making a first generation nuclear weapon. Not that anybody knows that Iran can solve those problems, but other countries have managed to solve them in the amount of time that Iran has had.[24:07] So, the implication, once again, is that Congress is trying to force the Administration to adopt a harder line than our negotiators are in Vienna. And so this will tend to cause even the Iranian negotiators to wonder who is calling the shots in Washington. Now, the irony here is that with the exception of those problems, the sense of Congress isn’t that different from what the Administration has been saying but, it’s enough of a difference to cause a problem.
The operative section of the bill, and I should note that the bill we’re looking at is the draft that has not been introduced and so it might well be that by the time Menendez and Kirk get around to introducing a bill it will be different from the text we’ve seen. But the operative part starts out by saying that if an agreement is reached, it has to be transmitted to the Senate with a verification assessment report within five days. Now, this verification assessment report is supposed to be a detailed assessment of how well we could monitor Iranian compliance, assuming that Iran would depart from established practices and would use any methods that they could come up with to hide what they were doing. That’s the kind of report we’ve typically required on arms control treaties. The difference is that on arms control treaties the executive branch has had months in which to prepare that assessment, and here it would be required in five days. That is simply unrealistic. It is guaranteeing that they will get a slapdash report, probably a report that says “this is a slapdash report.” And that’ll be one more reason for people who don’t like the negotiations in the first place to oppose the agreement.
Then they go on to say that all U.S. activity with regard to the agreement should be stopped until Congress has had a period of thirty days of continuous session before the agreement could go ahead. Now thirty days in continuous session, if you look at the last couple years, that would probably take around seventy days. So what they’re really talking about is more than two months in which they say the United States could not lift or waive any sanctions, and in addition could not take any other action with regard to implementing the agreement. Well this is rather odd, because when you ask “what would the other actions be?” well, they might be things like participating in inspections or helping to dismantle or convert some of Iran’s equipment, or helping to move enriched uranium out of Iran and into Russia. All these being the kinds of things that we have done in the name of nonproliferation in other countries over the years. To bar us from doing that sort of activity simply because they’re afraid that the President would come up with a way of easing sanctions is rather feckless.[28:41] In addition, by holding up U.S. involvement in the lifting of sanctions for two or three months, what Congress would really do is force the P5+1 to arrange any agreement such that U.S. lifting of sanctions would not be required in the first months of the agreement. So, the UN would lift sanctions, the EU would lift some sanctions. Well what that does is get everyone else in the world used to the idea of lifting sanctions while we’re sitting around waiting to see whether Congress will approve the agreement, and that begins to unravel the international coalition that has kept sanctions so effective over the last year or so. So in the end, even though Menendez, I think, has been trying to make his legislation more useful, it won’t be. It raises problems; they’re not as obvious as the problems last year, but they’re obvious enough that there is no good reason to go ahead with taking this bill to the floor of the senate. I’ll stop there for now.
BRADSHAW: [30:03] Thanks, Ed. We can ask Ed questions later on in the Q and A session. Let’s turn it over now to Alireza Nader. Go ahead Ali.
ALIREZA NADER: [30:12] Good morning, hope everybody is well. There is a perception among those that are pushing for new sanctions against Iran that the only reason Iran has come to the table to negotiate on the nuclear program are the sanctions. While sanctions no doubt have put a lot of pressure on the Islamic Republic and have served as an inducement for Tehran to take negotiations more seriously, they’re not the only factor driving Iran toward a nuclear bargain.
First of all, at this point if there are new sanctions this will reinforce the perception in Iran that sanctions will never be lifted. Even if Iran reaches an agreement with the P5+1, the UN Security Council post-Germany, there will be obstacles to Iran needing sanctions relief. So why make concessions on the nuclear program when Congress will push for sanctions no matter what Iran agrees to. And so this is the wide perception within the establishment in Iran, especially among conservatives, and the government of President Hassan Rouhani has tried very hard to convince the entire establishment that a nuclear agreement will be met with sanctions relief. But really at this point what the Rouhani government and the political system in Iran is looking for is sanctions relief. Sanctions relief will be a better inducement in terms of Iran making a deal rather than passing additional sanctions because again, there’s a lot of distrust in Iran for U.S. intentions and vice-versa, for very obvious historical reasons, but sanctions at this point is going to just reinforce the distrust and then I think we could end up as being a situation in which neither side makes concessions and we face escalation from both sides if the talks fail or go into long term stalemate.[32:25] Second, while President Rouhani has an entire agenda set around a nuclear negotiation, he wants to open up Iran’s economy, create more privatization and jobs in Iran, decrease the atmosphere of political repression, and he needs the nuclear deal to achieve these goals. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards and the conservatives have a different agenda. They want to keep Iran relatively closed, they want to maintain their monopoly on economy, and they don’t want any political reforms whatsoever. And when we look at what Khamenei says in terms of an economy of resistance, I think what he is really talking about is belt-tightening. He’s saying that the Iranians should expect harder times, especially if negotiations fail. He has supported Rouhani’s efforts but he has also said that he doesn’t think negotiations will be successful and that Iranians instead of expecting sanctions relief should expect harder times like they did in the post-revolutionary years. So what as Rouhani is more eager, and those who support Rouhani and voted for him are more eager to see a nuclear deal and sanctions relief, the conservative establishment has a higher tolerance for the costs. They’re not immune to the costs of sanctions, but they’re more willing to pass the costs to the Iranian people rather than bear the costs themselves.
When we look at today’s economy, sure oil exports have gone down tremendously and the government is running out of cash, but there is still a lot of wealth in Iran, Revolutionary Guards and Khamenei control the foundations, still have access to probably tens of billions of dollars. They’re not taxed, they’re not accountable, there’s no transparency. Arguably, even if new sanctions are passed and Iran’s oil income goes down to zero, there’s no guarantee then that the regime will come around and say “ok we’ll give you everything you want,” it could conceivably last a few years without making the nuclear concessions Congress is looking for. And so those terms, sanctions are not guaranteed to work. Just passing more sanctions does not mean that Iran is going be more flexible in a nuclear program in the near future anyhow.
And in terms of a nuclear deal, a lot has been said about tying human rights abuses in Iran and Iran’s regional policies to the nuclear program, and while the Iranian government does a lot of things that are a challenge to U.S. interests, tying all the issues the U.S. has with Iran to the nuclear negotiations is going to be very problematic. If there is a perception in Iran, if the United States is trying to force out the Syrian regime, put more pressure on Hezbollah, and curtail Iran’s regional influence, that will be seen as an effort to promote regime change in Iran, push back Iran’s influence in the Middle East and make the regime weaker.
My argument would be that we should see what kind of nuclear agreement we get and then see what kind of deal we can do with Iran in terms of modifying its’ regional policies. I don’t believe that we are going to witness a full U.S.-Iran d’état after a nuclear deal, after the final comprehensive deal. I think that the establishment in Iran is opposed to normal relations with the United States because it would undermine Khamenei and the Guard’s political authority, but at least if there’s a nuclear deal there is a possibility that we will see decreasing tensions in the Middle East, not just between the U.S. and Iran but also Iran and Saudi Arabia, possibility, and even Israel. Because if Iran is not seen as the way it’s been viewed as being very threatening with the nuclear program on the threshold of nuclear weapons, as some perceive it. If that recedes I think there’s an opportunity to at least address some of the issues U.S. and allies have with Iran. Realistically, I’ll make the argument: Well, the Saudis fear Iran and have sworn they don’t’ want a deal, but it’s not as if Iran as a country is going to go anywhere, it’s still going to have influence in the Middle East and it’s a matter of being able to diplomatically address Iran’s influence and see if there’s a space for U.S.-Iran engagement in places like Afghanistan at least. But also explore the possibilities of trying to de-escalate conflicts in places like Iraq and Syria where Iran does have a lot of influence. Thank you. [37:54]
David Sanger, NEW YORK TIMES: [39:16] A quick question for Ed, if he could tell us whether or not he saw any hope in an alternative bill that we are hearing about that Barbara Boxer and some others are working on that would essentially trigger sanctions only if the Iranians moved first here.
Over the weekend we saw the Iranians talk about a set of actions in the parliament that would authorize moving the higher level enrichment. And what it sounds like we are heading for here is a game of chicken in which both legislatures are both discussing who becomes the first one to break out of the JPoA while the negotiations are underway.
LEVINE: [40:18] I have not seen the Boxer-Paul draft if there is one yet. The concept of saying we will only do something if the other side does it first obviously risks somebody will jump too far. On the other hand if that is the only way to avoid having in both parliaments having worse legislation then you hope everybody knows how to do kabuki, that they do not slip.
SANGER: [re-explaining the question]
NADER: [41:52] With the Iranian Parliament it is not necessarily a democratic parliament so there is a very different dynamic there, but it is controlled by the conservatives. Hassan Rouhani and his interest centrist factions want to win back Parliament in the upcoming elections, but for now I think Parliament is kind of functioning as the conservative’s outlet for expressing their frustrations with the negotiations because they think the negotiations have not produced very much. Contrary to claims that Iran is getting substantial sanctions relief, that is not the case really. It has not gotten most of its funds unfrozen and the price of oil is still low. The conservatives in Iran are becoming frustrated and threatening to wrap up Iran’s nuclear program if Congress passes new sanctions, for example. And there are indications that they are considering directly tying their actions to moves by the United States. So if Congress passes new sanctions or the talks collapse or go into stalemate and Iran faces further economic pressure, then Iran would have the opportunity to start enriching uranium to up to 20% or even higher – Iranian officials have spoken before about going up to 90%, getting closer to that threshold for producing nuclear weapons. I think that would produce a dangerous escalation that neither side will have an easy time getting out of.
At this point thought the establishment has largely supported Rouhani, the Supreme Leader has even ordered Iranian politicians not to criticize Rouhani publicly. Rouhani still has much of the support of the system, but if there is a point in which Iran is not receiving any benefits from the negotiations but is coming under further pressure, Rouhani might be willing to reach an agreement, but the entire political system in Iran might not be willing. Rouhani has a limited window here, he does not have the rest of his presidency necessarily to reach a deal.
BRADSHAW: [44:24]Just a quick point on the Boxer-Paul bill, there is no draft. I was speaking to the drafters a couple of days ago, they are still trying to work that out. But the operative mechanism, the way that they are conceiving it, is that the Director of National Intelligence would have to make a report every 30 days on whether the Iranians are complying with the JPoA or a subsequent follow-on comprehensive agreement, and then the president is the final decider on that. It does build in some flexibility into the system. There is not the sense that reporting any violation would then trigger sanctions, there has to be a determination of the scale that the violations were, whether they rise to the level of a serious violation. So there is a built in flexibility or cushion there if that is the way the bill turns out. [Introducing Ilan Goldenberg]
ILAN GOLDENBERG: [45:31] I will quickly layout where we are in the negotiations. Basically right now we are looking toward, the negotiators are looking towards a March deadline for what would be a political framework agreement, and really I think it is the end of March although there is a lot of squishiness out there about that and different people saying different things. But fundamentally what they are doing is by the end of March get out a political framework agreement on key core issues and from that be able to leap frog to a final technical agreement by the end of June. The reality is the political piece is the really difficult one, the technical geeks you put them in a room afterwards and they can work it out if the politicians and key leadership can get through the big issues.
Right now there are really three core issues that are still remaining unresolved in the negotiations. The first is the size and scale of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, which really is everything you hear about how many centrifuges they are going to have, how big their stock-pile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) is going to be and really all these pieces come together in different ways depending on if you have more centrifuges you can have less LEU, if you have more LEU you have less centrifuges. But fundamentally the United States’ position on this is Iran needs to be a year away from being able to get to enough material for one bomb. That has been our negotiating position, and that is the position we are pushing for. And thus far the Iranians have not agreed to that.
The second issue is how long an agreement will be. The United States wants the duration of the agreement to be 15 years at a minimum. Iran is looking more at single digits, 5-7 years, and the question is whether or not you can come to an agreement [47:27] in the middle or if one side gives in. the key issue here is once the agreement is complete Iran becomes incompliance with this international obligations and can produce nuclear material for civilian purposes just like any other country in the world in line with the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). And so obviously the length of that deal before Iran is able to do that is very important to us and also to the Iranians.
The final issue is sanctions, which Iranians want as much sanctions relief upfront if not all as immediate as possible. While the United States and the P5+1 want to push a lot of this back and the question is coming up with a sequence of events, maybe the European sanctions come off first and the Security Council’s come off second and the United States sanctions come off at the very end. What is the sequence and what is the timing [48:22] what are the steps associated that Iran needs to take in order to get that. That is really the fundamental biggest issue, in terms of the Iranian side.
In terms of what this means in the negotiations and what has been going on over the Hill. The good sign in the last few weeks is the level of seriousness, the United States and Iran are negotiating almost exclusively bilaterally – which is quite frankly the only way this is going to happen. The deal here needs to be between the United States and Iran and when they negotiated the JPoA a year ago that was negotiated between the United States and Iran and only in the very end did they bring the rest of the P5+1 in. So this is how you get to a deal, the fact that they have shifted to this mode of negotiations is a very positive sign [49:17], but it still doesn’t necessarily mean they will get to an agreement.
The second thing that is, the Hill – as Ed and Ali already laid out – a new round of sanctions would obviously be devastating to the talks. The Iranian perspective is, in 2012 we needed to demonstrate to them that we could hurt them economically, and they didn’t believe it. Until they believed it they weren’t going to negotiate with us in a real fundamental way. But now the problem is that we need to demonstrate we can credibly unhurt them. And they don’t believe that, they don’t believe we can ever lift the sanctions. But the irony is, there is a way that Hill action helps the negotiations and now we have had this big confrontation and if the President wins that confrontation, if no bill comes to the floor or proponents of sanctions aren’t able to get to a veto proof majority then ironically then the President looks a lot stronger in the eyes of an Iranian negotiator. And one small important note is that Hillary Clinton coming out last week and saying she supports the President’s position was an interesting note that was noticed in Tehran in that, one of the things their negotiators consistently say to our negotiators is that even if President Obama cuts a deal who knows what the next president will do. Obviously there is a lot of [50:36] time between now and 2016 and there are a lot of different candidates out there, but Hillary Clinton is obviously one of the big ones out there and for her to be out there signaling this is at least meaningful to the Iranians to say that okay this is sustainable in the long term.
I think [50:55] I can also talk about the whole Netanyahu kerfuffle, but maybe I’ll save that for Q&A if folks want to talk about that.
BRADSHAW: Thank you Ilan, now we will open up the floor again for questions from the reporters.
CHARLES HOSKINSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: [51:25]I have a question for Dr. Levine. Dr. Levine, I have talked to a lot of people on the Hill who basically agree with you on the sanctions issue, but say well the Administration hasn’t really made a case to Congress, they haven’t given them any reason to vote against sanctions. What are your thoughts on that?
LEVINE: [51:51] It doesn’t seem to me that the case is all that difficult to make. That when you are in the midst of a negotiation you don’t want to take up legislation that the other side, and indeed your allies, would see as undermining the negotiation. I think that the op-ed by the British, French and Germans and the statements by PM Cameron have made it pretty clear that sanctions legislation would risk torpedoing the entire enterprise. I don’t know what it is more that people might want the President to say to them.
NADER: [52:59] How about just listening to the negotiators, because they are involved in this on a very regular basis and they know what level of pressure and what type of leverage the United States needs, and the negotiators are against new sanctions. The claim that sanctions will empower the negotiations is hard to swallow when the negotiators are arguing against it. And there are multiple reasons, but that one reason I think that is particularly obvious.
GOLDENBERG: [53:36] One challenge that the Administration is not making the case is that in 2012 it made a very strong case against sanctions, and once the sanctions were implemented or passed they implemented them and took significant credit for them. And because of that folks on the Hill don’t necessarily believe them when they tell them they don’t want sanctions, but this is a very different world from 2012. As I said, in 2012 we needed to get the Iranians to the table and prove to them that we could hurt them financially. Today is the opposite challenge, we need to demonstrate to them that there is a pot at the end of the rainbow. This is a very simple question of carrots and sticks and negotiations 101 and I think many on the Hill look at 2012 and say the Administration was wrong then, it must be wrong now, they always make the case against sanctions.
NADER: [54:32] I agree with Ilan. Also, in 2012 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still the Iranian president. We have a different government in Iran, different elected government anyways, that views the world and even Iran’s relations with the United States much more nuanced and non-ideological way. We are not necessarily going get that in the future, and I think that does really matter.
BRADSHAW: Thanks Ali. Let’s have our next question from a reporter. Go ahead please.
LEANDRA BERNSTEIN, SPUTNICK INTERNATIONAL NEWS: [55:05] This is not just a bilateral negotiation with the U.S. and Iran, there is an international component to it, the President has said all options on the table implying a military option if the talks fall apart. Sergey Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister said on Monday that only a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue is a possibility. So, there is definitely a discrepancy there between the U.S. position and what Sergey Lavrov said today. So, I would like to get the panelists thoughts on that.
GOLDENBERG: [56:03] I worked at the Pentagon for number of years on Iran. The Russian position and the Chinese position on this was never all options are on the table, they have never publicly said that. Our position has always been all options are on the table. I don’t think this is a new difference. The question is, do you have international support. If these talks fall apart because the world sees Iran as at fault, and then from there, things escalate and we get to position where military action is a possibility, which I still think is far down the road I still think we have a lot of other options before you get to that position, well you’re stuck with that option, which is a terrible option that you only use if you get the position where you have the choice between a nuclear armed Iran or military action, and you just weigh both of those at that moment.
If these talks fall apart because the world perceives that the United States passed sanctions that caused the Iranians to walk away, while negotiations are ongoing. You will never get that, you’ll have the opposite. You’ll have a collapse of the sanctions regime and the idea that there will ever be unified position on military action will go out the window. So, for those who support or think that is a credible or serious option, inadvertently or purposely tanking the talks with new sanctions gets you in the opposite direction of never being able to pursue a credible military action if you wanted to.
LEVINE: [57:41] It strikes me that the roles of China and Russia on the one hand and the EU3 plus the United States are pretty clear in that China and Russia will never threaten Iran in the same way we do, but that they stay with the EU3 plus 1 on the United States on the diplomatic issues and so Lavrov is playing his role.
KATHLEEN MILLER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: [58:28] Does anyone on the call have reason to believe that Israel has turned against the deal and wants to kill it in light of the Mossad statement last week calling it a bad deal and the Israeli Ambassador’s weekend speech in which he made similar statements?
GOLDENBERG: [58:55] I don’t think Israel has turned against a deal, I think Israel has always been highly skeptical of an agreement, from the very beginning they were very skeptical of even going into the JPoA. And part of it is, being a country a country of 8 million people surrounded by numerous sort of unfriendly actors in the neighborhood they have a much lower risk tolerance than the United States does and tends to essentially plan for all the worst case scenarios and actually believe that that is what is going to happen. So when we did the JPoA they responded with that is a terrible and tragic mistake and now the sanctions regime is going to fall apart and this is the worst decision the United States could have possibly made. And low and behold a year and two extensions later the Israelis have decided that actually the JPoA is not all that bad since it essentially has frozen the Iranian nuclear program and it is better than all the alternatives. So now they have put their energy towards the actual final agreement are going to essentially draw the same kind of conclusions about any final agreement. Their view is we should not have ever gone into the negotiations in the first place, and we should have just been putting more pressure on until Iran bends to our will and essentially gives up its entire nuclear program.
I think the United States views that as an unrealistic outcome. But there is a way for us to work together with the Israelis and I think we spend a lot of time with Israel working through these assumptions, deeply analyzing all of this and having some very frank discussions. [1:00:40]And we can sort of move them towards our position, but never completely and especially once politics start to get involved and Israeli elections start to get involved as we have in March, and you have folks on the Hill who want to make this a political issue. Then you have something like the invitation to Netanyahu last week without even giving a heads up to the WH or the Secretary of State Netanyahu talked to only a couple of hours before announcing the invitation. That is, I think, a very dangerous recipe because what it does is it politicizes the U.S.-Israeli relationship and tries to turn it into a wedge issue between the Democrats and Republicans. When Israel is strongest and the alliance is strongest is when everyone is on the same side of the issue, and the US-Israeli relationship is seen as a bipartisan issue that is where it is traditionally seen and where is should be.
This is a witches’ brew – the combination of Israeli elections, upcoming deadlines with Iran, domestic political fights in the Unites States, difficult relationship between Obama and Netanyahu that can’t end well for anyone if Netanyahu follows through with this speech. But it seems to be getting major blow back both in Israel, the security establishment, from Netanyahu’s own former Ambassador to the United States, from people like Abe Fox here and pillars of the Jewish community here would not usually be out against something like this. I think there is a lot of anxiety and realization that this was an unwise move.
BRADSHAW: [1:02:50] Ed, let me ask you a question. We have talked about all the difficulties with the Kirk-Menendez bill and some other bills out there, what would you think would be the best, most constructive role for Congress to play at this time and then going forward in the next months? Congress has some role to play, and the Administration has continually said that. But how would you see that given your long experience and what would be the most constructive and positive way Congress could be engaged?
LEVINE: [1:03:27] I think if they really wanted to be positive they should ask themselves how could we help the situation if there is an agreement. And there the answer would be bolster the International Atomic Energy Agency, bolster our capability to monitor Iranian compliance with an agreement, and steps in those two areas would be seen not as trusting Iran, but as accepting the possibility that an agreement will be in our interest as well.
SAMEERA DANIELS, FREELANCER: [1:04:40] I have a question of Ed, let’s assume that there is an agreement and as we have discussed in different fora the potential for the IAEA to encourage its verification scheme. Do you think the Iranians would agree to that? How would that be any different, I am trying to assess the real substantive outcome of that.
LEVINE: [1:05:31] I think that one of the benefits of the JPoA is that Iran is getting used to a higher level of verification by the international community. And they are finding out that it isn’t all that hard to live with. And so now they haven’t gone over the step that has frustrated their relations with the IAEA over the past few years now, which is to let them have free access to military sites like Parchin. But if you really willing to take the political step of saying that we will show the international community that we are not going to develop nuclear weapons, that then you quickly get to the point where you no longer have a particular reason to keep them out of those military sites. I don’t think that Iran has that much there that they have to keep secret. And the IAEA is used to working with countries to keep secret things that don’t relate to nuclear activities. I think that if they are willing to bite the big bullet this is a small one. And the other questions will be much more determinative of whether there is an agreement.
BRADSHAW: [wrapping up call at 1:08:23]
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IN THE NEWS
- Ed Levine Quoted in NYT by David Sanger, January 27, 2015
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