Briefing on Iran Nuclear Negotiations
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, everyone, for joining. For those of you in Vienna, I know it’s a late night here, and welcome to everyone from Washington. Tonight’s conference call is on background. We have three people who will be speaking; all will be Senior Administration Officials. There will be no embargo to this call. So you know who’s speaking, the first Senior Administration Official will be [Senior Administration Official One]. The second will be [Senior Administration Official Two]. And the third will be [Senior Administration Official Three].
So each of them will give a few brief opening remarks and then we will open it up for questions. Again, this is all on background to Senior Administration Officials. So with that, I will turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One] to get us started.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, [Moderator]. I’ll just make a few comments and turn it over to my colleague. First of all, you all have been following these negotiations closely over the last six months, so I’ll just give a brief overview of how we got to where we are today. First of all, as we’ve indicated, we are very pleased with the successful implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the course of the last six months. Iran has met all of its commitments with respect to its nuclear program: neutralizing the 20 percent stockpile; capping their 5 percent stockpile; not installing new components or testing new components at the Arak facility; not installing new advanced centrifuges; and enabling much more robust inspections of their nuclear facilities. So we believe the Joint Plan of Action has been a success in halting the progress of the Iranian program and rolling it back in exchange for a relatively modest relief that has been provided over the six months.
Of course, the purpose of the Joint Plan of Action was also to create space for the negotiation of a comprehensive solution, and that’s what we’ve been pursuing these last six months. There have been difficult negotiations. Frankly, as we entered this latest round at the beginning of July, had we not made progress it was not by any means a forgone conclusion that we would pursue an extension, because our view was the Joint Plan of Action is not a new status quo, but rather a means of getting us the space to reach an agreement. So we wanted to see if there could be sufficient progress in these latest negotiations to, again, in our minds justify a continued dedication of time and effort. And that was very much the President’s direction to the team as they headed out to Vienna at the beginning of the month.
And as my colleague can discuss, we did see good progress in a range of areas over the last several weeks, even as there continue to be gaps, particularly as we discuss various proposals for issues related to the Arak facility, related to the future of the Fordow facility, related to Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and then related to the type of monitoring and inspections regime that would accompany part of a long-term agreement, issues that get at fundamental pathways to a nuclear weapon that we want to deal with in the course of a comprehensive agreement.
So that doesn’t mean we’ve resolved all of those issues completely, but it does mean that we saw openings and progress and creative proposals that began to see a potential assurance that elements of the Iranian program could be assured as peaceful to our satisfaction.
At the same time, there continue to be important gaps, however, between the parties. We, for instance, have highlighted the issue of domestic enrichment and the number of centrifuges that Iran would be operating as a part of the agreement as one very important remaining gap that has to be worked through.
So you had, again, Wendy Sherman working this constantly the last several weeks with a significant team of technical experts who have done extraordinary work in Vienna. You had Jake Sullivan and Bill Burns assisting in those negotiations, and you had Secretary Kerry traveling to the region to engage in two days of intensive discussions with Foreign Minister Zarif and Cathy Ashton and the other P5+1 ministers who were there earlier this week.
After that trip, Secretary Kerry came back to Washington. He briefed President Obama about the status of the negotiations on Wednesday. It was President Obama’s determination out of that meeting that it was worth pursuing an extension, given the progress that had been made, and given the potential prospect for comprehensive resolution. That’s no means assured, but we believe that the progress justified the continued investment of time and effort. And that is what, over the last several days, our negotiators have been developing with the Iranians in Vienna.
And so today, we have the agreement to extend the discussions until November 24th. As a part of that agreement, again, we wanted to continue to hold in place the progress that is in the Joint Plan of Action. We also wanted to see if there were additional elements that could be negotiated with Iran as more of a down payment on the negotiation.
With that, I’ll hand it over to my colleague, who can discuss the conduct of the broader negotiations as well as the specific terms of the extension where we aim to get at some of our additional proliferation concerns.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks very much, [Senior Administration Official One], and thank you all for joining. Some of you have been holed up here in Vienna. It’s a beautiful city if one gets to get out in it, but for now from the 1st of July until – what day is this today, the 18th?
QUESTION: The 18th.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: The 18th of July. A staggering number of people have been at the Coburg Hotel or at the Marriott Hotel or staying in their embassies, and literally working day and night in all kinds of formats, in bilaterals, trilaterals, in plenary sessions, with the Iranians, coordinating with each other, calling back home, getting instructions, trying to move this effort forward, working when ministers came in to try – working with our extraordinary team of experts not only here in Vienna but in the U.S. Government. The team here is backed up literally by hundreds of people, including people in our labs, people in the Department of Energy, people in Treasury, and really in the White House, of course, throughout the government. So it’s really quite a massive effort, and I’m quite proud to be part of this team.
We have worked very hard to try to move the Comprehensive Plan of Action forward. And [Senior Administration Official One] has outlined some of the areas in which we have made some progress. As you all know, because you’ve heard me many times before, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So you have to put these elements on the table. You have to work them through. You have to see how they work with each other and change the nature of the Rubik’s cube, as I’ve said, that you’re trying to put together.
We made some progress. [Senior Administration Official One] has outlined some of those areas, Secretary Kerry did in his statement today, on Arak, on Fordow, on the low enrichment, on the stockpile of low-enriched uranium, on enhanced monitoring and verification mechanisms, on some other key issues, R&D, PMD, and of course, enrichment capacity. We still have a considerable way to go, but even in those areas, ideas have been put on the table that have enough stature that they’re worth considering.
So what we are doing now is, having seen that we weren’t going to get to that comprehensive agreement – and this is a very complex technical negotiation with – really, it will end up being quite a long set of annexes that detail the political commitments – we began to discuss whether an extension made sense. Secretary Kerry came here and, as [Senior Administration Official One] said, assessed what was going on, took back his thoughts and ideas to the President, met with the President, gave us instructions here on behalf of the President to see if we could not move forward on an extension.
So for the past days, we have been negotiating that extension. We reached agreement tonight. For those of you who don’t know, it’s 2:00 in the morning here. And about an hour, hour-and-a-half ago, Cathy Ashton and Javad Zarif held a press conference where they put out statements. This extension of the Joint Plan of Action continues all of the commitments that are on the Joint Plan of Action and is meant to be simply an extension of that plan a year from when it was first executed to November 24th, 2014. But in addition, Iran has agreed that it will move forward in a more expeditious manner to complete the fabrication of all 20 percent oxide in Iran into fuel in a timely manner, and will indeed during this four-month period fabricate 25 kilograms of its 20 percent oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. In addition, Iran will dilute all of its up to two percent stockpile. That is at least three metric tons. And although it doesn’t hold much SWU, separate work units – that’s the measure of energy, so to speak – at the moment, in a breakout scenario it’s quite significant and quite important. So we think this is a big step forward.
In addition, Iran has taken some undertakings to clarify two critical issues in the Joint Plan of Action. One is confirming that rotors for advanced centrifuges at the Natanz pilot plant will only be produced at facilities to which the IAEA has monthly access, and they have confirmed that production of advanced centrifuges will only be to replace damaged machines. For those of you who follow all of this, you know that these are meaningful steps forward, in fact, on the road to the kinds of things we need to do in a comprehensive plan of action.
What we were really trying to do with this extension, and what is quite critical is to create the space to try to see if we cannot achieve a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action. It wasn’t for an end in itself, but rather to create the time and space in the same manner that the Joint Plan of Action did to see if we can, in fact, get to that Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action to ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful.
I think everyone here feels that we achieved a balanced way forward for these four months. And now, quite frankly, the excruciating and quite difficult hard work begins. And we will do this in a whole variety of ways, in a whole variety of formats. There is no question that the UN General Assembly will become a focal point or a fulcrum for these negotiations. And as you’ve heard the President and the Secretary say many times, no deal is better than a bad deal. But I would also add that what we are aiming for is the right deal, one that will meet the objectives that the President has set out and that he has shown leadership to the world to create a much more secure path for all of us.
I’m going to stop there – be happy to take your questions – and turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Three]. And I thank – some Treasury colleagues have been here, and they have just been fantastic, and very grateful for Treasury’s extraordinary role in this process.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Great. Thank you. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official Two], and I’ll be brief. Just want to touch a little bit on the sanctions side and the relief side of the agreement.
When we entered into the Joint Plan of Action last November, we explained that in return for important limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, we were committing to limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief that would leave Iran still deep in an economic hole. That same approach is what is reflected in the extension agreement, that for a limited and reversible relief that does not come close to fixing Iran’s economy, we are still obtaining significant limitations on Iran’s nuclear program.
So to be more specific, the – in the JPOA extension that has been agreed to, for the next four months we will continue the suspension of the sanctions on automotive imports into Iran, petrochemical exports, and trade in gold. I will note that during the Joint Plan of Action period – the first six months – Iran derived very little value from those sanctions’ suspension. We estimated the total value of the relief in the Joint Plan of Action would be in the neighborhood of $6 to 7 billion, and I think it has actually come in less than that. Critically, the overwhelming majority of our sanctions, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions, all remain in place. And we will continue to vigorously enforce those sanctions throughout the extension period.
And as part of the JPOA extension, Iran will be allowed access in tranches over the next four months to $2.8 billion from its restricted overseas assets. Those assets, which are unavailable to Iran, largely unavailable to Iran, are more than $100 billion. Those assets have actually increased over the course of the Joint Plan of Action as the oil revenues that Iran has been earning have been poured into these restricted accounts. So they will get access to $2.8 billion from these restricted accounts, which is the pro-rated amount of the relief that was provided in the JPOA period, which had been $4.2 billion.
Now, throughout this short-term extension of the JPOA in the next four months, we will continue to emphasize to businesses around the world that Iran is not open for business. That has not changed. As President Obama indicated, we’ll continue to come down like a ton of bricks on those who evade or otherwise facilitate the circumvention of our sanctions. And we’ll make clear to the world, as we have all along, that Iran continues to be cut off from the international financial system, with its most significant banks subject to sanction, including its central bank; that any foreign bank that transacts with any designated Iranian bank can lose its access to the U.S. financial system; that investment and support to Iran’s oil and petrochemical sectors is still subject to sanctions; that Iran’s currency, the rial, is still subject to sanctions, as is Iran’s ability to obtain the U.S. dollar; and that all U.S., EU, and UN designations of illicit actors, which number more than 600 at this place – at this point, all remain in place; and that the broad restrictions on U.S. trade with Iran also remain in place.
So as [Senior Administration Official Two] mentioned, this four-month extension will provide additional time for the negotiations to proceed. It will not change the basic fact that drove Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and that’s the unprecedented and severe pressure on Iran’s economy from the international sanctions regime. That also has not changed.
With that, I – why don’t I conclude and turn it over for questions? Go for it, [Moderator].
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. And if the operator could remind people how to ask a question, please.
OPERATOR: Sure. Again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. And if you are using the speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Again, * 1 to queue up to ask a question.
And our first question comes from Anne Gearan from The Washington Post. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, and thanks to all for doing the call at what I know is a ridiculously late or early hour for you. Could you please address the question of whether the extension is going to be a hard sell for President Obama and his team with Congress, and also with Israel? I mean, there – this doesn’t seem to fundamentally change what’s on the table right now, but what’s on the table right now, as you well know, is less than acceptable to a lot of people in Congress, and Israel has never liked it from the beginning. So what do you do now that you’re sort of pushing the ball down the court a bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. Thanks, Anne, for the question. I’d say a few things. First of all, just to reiterate a point that was made in the opening, the extension to November 24th has a clear logic in that the agreement that was reached on November 24th of last year specifically indicated a goal of one year to achieve a comprehensive resolution. So it was not an arbitrary date; it was one that was embedded in the initial agreement. The point there being that we are not simply re-upping a six-month agreement of the Joint Plan of Action as a new normal, a new status quo. We are, rather, extending, within a natural deadline, the benefits of the Joint Plan of Action so as to give the negotiations time to conclude.
The next point I’d make is that we have been in regular – you mentioned Israel – look, candidly, before the Joint Plan of Action was reached, I think there were public disagreements with Israel. Some of that flowed from the fact that elements of the Joint Plan of Action, or elements that were in support of the Joint Plan of Action, were discussed in a sensitive bilateral channel, so there was not a full transparency at every juncture with Israel and some of our partners. We endeavored, over the course of the last six months, to be much more transparent and to consult on a very regular basis with Israel and our other partners. And we – you saw Susan Rice lead a delegation to Israel; Wendy Sherman was regularly able to discuss the ongoing negotiations with some of her counterparts; other members of the U.S. Government, such that I think there’s a good understanding on our part of what Israel’s various positions and concerns are related to the negotiation, and we are able to give them a sense of understanding about how the negotiations are, moving forward.
I think it’s also fair to say that the Joint Plan of Action has over-performed in many respects. Iran has kept its commitments. The additional transparency and monitoring has gone forward, and the sanctions regime has held in place. And one of the concerns that was voiced by some in November and December is that the limited relief that we were providing would essentially snowball into many tens of billions of dollars in relief. That hasn’t taken place because of our continued enforcement of the sanctions regime. So, in other words, I think the Joint Plan of Action has over-performed in a way that provides a greater degree of comfort, although not complete comfort. I don’t want to overstate that there are not still, in Israel and other places, concerns about the prospect of what may be contained in a potential agreement. So in the sense of transparency and consultation, and in the sense of the success of the JPOA, we believe that we’ve made good progress.
Now with respect to the extension itself, we have been consulting with Congress very actively the last couple of weeks, so we have briefed regularly members in both the House and the Senate. There’s obviously a diversity of views in Congress about the negotiations and about what should be involved in a comprehensive resolution, even as I do think there’s an appreciation for some of the good progress that was made in the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action. I think what we are able to say to Congress today is there are very specific areas where we have made concrete progress. When we talk about how we are going to approach the future of the Arak facility and some of the proposals that have been made there; the future of the Fordow facility, which has been of particular concern because of the covert way in which it was developed and how deep underground it is; when you talk about the management of the stockpile and some of the transparency and monitoring proposals, you begin to see elements that would be contained in a comprehensive agreement that could assure an Iranian program that’s peaceful, that cut off key pathways to a weapon, be it a pathway through the Iraq reactor or the Fordow reactor. And yes, while there are gaps, and while there are gaps on particularly important issues like centrifuges and domestic enrichment inside of Iran, that there is significant progress that this is a serious negotiation, that we’re not just in talks for talks’ sake, we’re not just re-upping this for the sake of re-upping it; that we can show the ball has moved down the field. And we believe, with some more time, there is a prospect – not a guarantee, but a very real prospect – of potentially coming to an agreement that can assure us that the Iranian program is peaceful.
And then secondly, I think what we will be able to say to Congress is that not only will we maintain the progress that is embedded in the JPOA for the same prorated rate of modest relief that we’ve provided in the first six months, but there are additional steps that Iran is taking over the course of the four months that do have value in terms of converting that oxide from the 20 percent stockpile into fuel, in terms of dealing with that stockpile of up to 2 percent, and in terms of some of the additional R&D issues that my colleague spoke to, so that there is added value in what is being done over the course of the next four months as it relates to our proliferation concerns. All of that adds up to, we believe, a very strong and clear case for four more months to pursue a comprehensive resolution and to maintain the progress in the JPOA, and to add the additional elements that Iran has agreed to, all for very modest relief.
Were we to not take this step, not only would we be denying ourselves the opportunity to reach an agreement, but we would also be putting at risk the international unity that has gotten us to this point, given the fact that our partners feel like there’s the same progress that we see. So again, all – I think all of that adds up to the case we will continue to make to Congress. And as I said, we’ll continue to consult with our Israeli partners and other partners around the world.
Next question, [Moderator]?
OPERATOR: Thank you, and our next question comes from Jo Biddle from AFP. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello, good evening, good morning, thank you very much. A couple of logistics questions and a couple of clarifications, please.
When do you think you’ll be back to – are your teams now leaving – are the teams now leaving Vienna today or over the weekend, and when will you resume the talks heading into this next extension of four months?
On the clarifications side, when Secretary Kerry mentions in his statement that 25 kilograms of the 20 percent fuel, which has been converted – is going to be converted into – which has been diluted, is going to be converted into fuel, is – how much of this is actually – how much of the 20 percent stocks actually remains, and how much of this is going to be converted? How much of the 20 percent stocks is going to be converted into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor?
And just a question for [Senior Administration Official Three], if possible. You mentioned that there was now more than $100 billion in assets, given the oil revenues which have continued to flow into these frozen accounts. Are you able to give us a more accurate figure of how much is actually still in these accounts? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So let me take a couple of those questions. Yes, everyone is leaving Vienna. We’ve had quite enough of the Coburg buffets, wonderful as they were. We’ve all been eating and sleeping here.
What we believe very strongly is that everyone needs to take the time to go back to capitals and think about what’s gone on here, think about the way ahead, do some of the intellectual work that is necessary, do some of the technical work that is necessary to follow up on the myriad of ideas that have been put on the table here. There is quite a book of ideas, concepts, possible solutions. And, quite frankly, when you’re here in the middle of a negotiations is not the best time to do the technical work, to think through whether they are solutions or not. So everybody needs to take some time to do that kind of work in a reflective way.
We expect that there will be in some format some discussions yet during the month of August, whether that’s with Baroness Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif, whether that’s among political directors, whether that’s a preliminary discussion either bilaterally, trilaterally, or in the P5+1 with Iran that’s not clear. As I said, the UN General Assembly will be a fulcrum both ahead of it, during it, and after it, because we have a lot of players there and an easy way to really get some business done.
So that’s on the sort of how we’re going to resume and where we’re going to go. I expect it to be extremely intensive, as it always is.
On the 25 kilograms, in all there are about a hundred – probably slightly less but about a hundred kilograms, so 25 percent, a quarter of the 20 percent enriched uranium oxide will be converted into fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor. And for those of you who haven’t had to learn all of this yet, welcome to learning all of this. I haven’t learned it all yet, but I am surrounded by brilliant people who do.
Once oxide – once enriched uranium is converted oxide into fuel plates, then Iran would find it quite difficult and time-consuming to use this 20 percent enriched material for further enrichment in a breakout scenario. So you want to turn this into metal plates because it makes it much more difficult, if not nearly impossible – not entirely impossible, but nearly impossible – to use it to further enrich the highly enriched uranium that could be used for a nuclear weapon.
So even putting in this language that this will – all of it will happen in a timely manner, Iran has said in the past that it wanted to convert all of its oxide of 20 percent enriched uranium into metal plates, but they’ve been doing it at incredibly slow rates, at about 1.5 kilograms a month. And so this will accelerate that process, and they have now reaffirmed in this document their commitment to do this with all of the 20 percent fuel. And that’s quite important.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: And just briefly on the – on your last question, I cannot give you a precise figure on it. I can tell you though that during the course of the JPOA the first – the six months of the JPOA, Iran sold oil worth about $25 billion. The vast majority of that revenue has gone into restricted accounts. Some of it has been released as part of the agreement in the JPOA, and some of it can be used for bilateral trade or for humanitarian trade, but we think that the amounts that are building up in these accounts is – I can’t give you a precise figure on it, but the amounts are continuing to build up beyond the $100 billion that they had at the beginning of the JPOA period.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Next question.
OPERATOR: And that comes from Laurence Norman from The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: All right, thanks. A couple of questions. First of all, one of the officials mentioned the – on the enrichment, and I think it was PMD issues, the ideas are put on the table that — I think the phrase was “have enough stature” that they were worth pursuing. Now, what we had all sensed in Vienna was that the enrichment issue hadn’t moved very much, so I’d just be intrigued to see if that really was a significant movement that in any way could narrow the gap.
And then secondly – and I apologize for this but it is 2:00 in the morning in Vienna – could someone just run us very quickly through again what we’ve agreed on the 2 percent and on the R&D?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. Let me take the last first, Laurence and glad you’ve been here with us in Vienna. So what Iran committed is to combine its entire inventory of up to two percent uranium, which we estimate to be at least three metric tons, with depleted uranium to form natural uranium. So that’s a form of dilution back to natural uranium, which means that there are many steps to go for it to become enriched material that would ultimately become highly enriched material, which, of course, Iran does not yet do. It enriches up to 20 percent. So 25 – of up to 5 percent – sorry – they’ve stopped doing any of the 20 percent enriching as part of the JPOA. They now only enrich up to 5 percent, but once did, and that caused great concern because it’s not far from 20 percent, once you’ve mastered that, to get to highly enriched uranium.
So that’s what they’ve done on the two percent. And what was your other question? Sorry, I’m a little —
QUESTION: It was also on the R&D and then to go back to the comment that I think you made about ideas put on the table about enrichment and PMD that were worth pursuing from this round.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: So what they did on the two issues that were of concern to us that we got included in this extension paper, non-paper, is that they have confirmed that rotors for advanced centrifuges at the Natanz pilot plant will only be produced at facilities to which the IAEA has monthly access. That’s obviously important because then we know what’s going on, as opposed to covert production of rotors which could be used for advanced centrifuges.
And then secondly, Iran has confirmed that production of advanced centrifuges will only be to replace damaged machines. So that means you’re not producing advanced centrifuges to use on their own, but rather simply to replace (inaudible). And that’s an important step forward on R&D.
And then there was one last point on PMD.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: PMD and R&D. These are very – two very difficult subjects. And PMD, obviously the IAEA takes the lead. We have been very conscious – everyone here has had meetings with the director general and with his team at the IAEA. We want to make sure whatever we do not only in the Joint Plan of Action but in a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action reinforces the independence and role of the IAEA which verifies all the nuclear-related commitments in the JPOA and would in the JCPA as well.
That said, we have discussed a way forward on PMD, how we can help leverage these negotiations to get the kind of cooperation necessary to meet what the IAEA has set out. As you know, the IAEA will also monitor all the transparency and verification mechanisms, and most importantly, among others, the Additional Protocol, which I believe Iran is ready to agree to in a Comprehensive Plan of Action, and ultimately to be able to assess that there are no undeclared facilities in Iran, which would be quite crucial.
On R&D also a very tough topic because Iran, as you’ve heard I’m sure, Laurence, does not want to stop their scientists from thinking, learning, and one can’t take away the capability they have. They know how to do the nuclear fuel cycle. One can’t remove that from the country. So we want to make sure that R&D is for exclusively peaceful purposes, but it’s going to be one of the very contentious subjects in a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.
MODERATOR: Great, thanks. Next question.
OPERATOR: And that comes from the line of David Sanger from The New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thanks, all, for doing this at this late hour. I wanted to ask you a little bit about Minister Zarif’s proposal that he made public on Monday about trying to do a freeze that would basically continue the temporary agreement forward into the future. And of course, that would not involve any build-down or destruction of current equipment and centrifuges, which is something that’s been a central American and your partners’ demand.
Were you able in the days – in the last days of these negotiations to close that down any? And we’ve heard discussion of something that might extend for closer to 20 years that involve a larger number of centrifuges. Can you just update us on where that – where you sort of left that at the end of this session?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFFICIAL TWO: David, you probably know as well if not better than everyone – than anyone that I’m not going to get in a discussion of specific proposals or specific elements of the negotiation. What I will say is what the Secretary has said, what we have said, what the President has alluded to in his statements, that we expect there to be a significant reduction in Iran’s enrichment program. We believe that that is necessary, because remember we’re doing this because of more than a decade of violations of Iran’s obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the passage of multiple Security Council sanctions and resolutions, including all the members of the Security Council. So that’s what we are about here, which is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would allow them to project more power into the neighborhood, already quite a volatile and difficult and complex region, and obviously would be a threat to their neighbors and would probably set off a race for nuclear weapons throughout the region and the world, which wouldn’t make any of us more secure. So we can’t forget what we’re trying to do here and what this is about.
We also believe very strongly that there needs to be a long duration to this agreement so that the international community has confidence that the program is exclusively peaceful. We have said that has to be double digits, but we’re not going to get into a number on this call. We’re still in these negotiations.
MODERATOR: Great. I think we have a few more questions. Go ahead, Operator.
OPERATOR: And our next question comes from Josh Lederman from the AP. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, guys. Following up on Anne’s question, there’s those in Congress who want to move ahead with a delayed sanctions bill that would basically kick in if the negotiations failed. For the first official, if Congress sends that bill to the President, will he veto it? And also, are there any plans for the President to speak again with President Rouhani?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, Josh. This issue came up in January, and the President made clear that he did not think that – well, first of all, the President made clear that any new sanctions bill along those lines would likely derail the negotiations and divide the P5+1 and unravel the existing sanctions regime. And in that context he said he would veto any such bill. Congress then essentially did not move forward with that legislation.
It continues to be our belief that there should not be any new sanctions legislation passed during the duration of these negotiations. So our position on that issue has not changed. We have four months with this extension. We are continuing to see benefits from the JPOA. We are continuing to pursue an agreement that we are closer to today than we were six months ago. So we would continue to oppose new sanctions legislation during the life of the negotiations.
Moreover, our original concerns have not changed. If anything, our P5+1 partners are more invested in this process because of the progress that’s been made. So, were the United States to impose additional sanctions unilaterally during the course of the negotiations, we would be concerned that that could put at risk the P5+1 unity that is essential to reaching a good agreement, and could also provoke responses from the Iranians that would not be constructive in reaching a comprehensive resolution.
All of that said, we understand the desire for those in Congress to hold Iran’s feet to the fire. We believe that Congress helped get us where we are today because the sanctions helped create the conditions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. We believe that Iran needs to be aware that there is the leverage of additional sanctions because Congress is ready to act at the drop of a hat. And if we are not in agreement in four months, and if we are not able to point to progress that justifies continued discussions, we would support additional sanctions at that type of juncture.
And so, this is something we’ll be continuing to discuss with Congress in the next days and weeks. Right now we have an agreement on an extension. I think Congress can hear us out on the progress that’s been made. Congress can look at the terms of the extension and the additional elements that Iran has put on the table as a part of that extension. And it will continue to be our position that new sanctions are not necessary during the duration of the negotiations because they could put those negotiations at risk, as well as the unity of the United States and our partners.
The next question?
OPERATOR: Thank you. And that comes from Lou Charbonneau from Reuters. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. I had a question about the ballistic missile program of Iran. I wondered if there’s been any progress made in dealing with that, because so far the Iranians have been quite adamant about not wanting to discuss it, though we have heard that all issues raised in Security Council resolutions must be dealt with during the process.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, Lou. As you all know, we have said and the Joint Plan of Action literally says that UN Security Council resolutions must be addressed for successful implementation. So – of any agreement in a comprehensive fashion. So Iran may indeed not like to talk about these subjects, but long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons are referred to in the Security Council resolutions, and so we will have to address it in some way. How we will resolve that issue, how appropriate it will be, I think remains to be seen. I don’t think the aim is to go after the military’s conventional program, though obviously we are all concerned about Iran’s activities in Syria, in Gaza, in Iraq, in other parts of the world that can be destabilizing. But what we are focused here on in this agreement are nuclear warheads that can find a delivery mechanism that endangers the safety and security of the world.
MODERATOR: Great. Let’s do the next question, please. I think we have time for two more.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And that first one is from Michael Wilner of The Jerusalem Post. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi there. Thanks for doing this so late over here. Yeah, I just wanted to follow up on David’s question and on his interview. I know Senior Administration – I think it’s Senior Administration Official Two and the Secretary say you won’t comment on press reports, and I understand that. But I’m not sure that’s entirely sufficient here because if it’s obviously the party across from him, Foreign Minister Zarif, who chose to discuss the proposal in public, and the proposal suggests there is a flaw in the justification for this extension, and that’s to say that progress has been made.
So, I think it’s important to answer that question, and that is: Is the position characterized in David’s piece on the table, or is it just playing politics through The New York Times? And if the position he represented is accurate, how can you say progress has been made when what he proposed was effectively to make permanent the interim JPOA that you just extended?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll take a quick cut at that and then my colleague may want to jump in. We would not agree to the proposal on the table there. We have made an assessment that there’s enough progress made in a number of areas which we specified that gives us confidence that we’re moving in the right direction, and that there’s been creativity and movement in these negotiations that allows us to see the potential for an agreement that we could hold up as the right agreement and a good agreement. So we are confident that we wouldn’t be pursuing this additional time if we did not think we could get a good deal, and a good deal would be one that is better than the proposal that you’re referencing.
We understand that there are ideas that are discussed publicly, privately. We’re focused on what is an agreement that can assure that the Iranian program is peaceful. We see a pathway to that agreement. It’s by no means assured. There are still gaps, particularly in the important area of enrichment. But again, we see movement in important areas that reflect pathways to a weapon that have been of major concern to us and our partners at Arak, at Fordow, with respect to stockpile, and we also see the potential to have ongoing discussions and proposals around the issue of enrichment. And frankly, it’s necessary for there to be additional time to get the additional space for that negotiation to take place because to make tough political decisions on all sides, to make hard choices, everybody has to go back to capitals and take stock of where things stand. And so that’s a necessary element of this extra time as well. We wouldn’t simply want to keep our negotiators in Vienna not just because they’ve been there for so long, but also because it’s important, again, for folks to be able to take ideas back and to see what additional room can be achieved through discussions in respective capitals.
But I don’t know, [Senior Administration Official Two], if you have anything to add to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No, I think that’s well said. And I — as some senior official said in David’s piece that you’re referring to, some of the ideas have been discussed, some of them we’ve never heard of before, and some of them had more flexibility to them. So I think that Minister Zarif is a very skilled communicator and he makes quite good use of all of you on the telephone.
MODERATOR: Last question at 2:43 a.m. in Vienna.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And that comes from Kasra Naji from the BBC. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, it’s Amir Paivar. Kasra is with me from BBC Persian. My question is to [Senior Administration Official Three.] In the past six months when funds were unfrozen, we understand, although they would end up in accounts of Iranian Central Bank, say in Switzerland – and correct me if I’m wrong – there were difficulties to transfer them actually into Iran. Are there any provisions seen this time in this next four months that these funds do actually get into Tehran? I do understand that the Treasury probably – I mean, you’ve been speaking about Iran getting less than what it was supposed to. The problem with that is it makes it difficult for President Rouhani to sell the deal back in Iran. Have you made any facilities this time for them to get the money in Tehran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Sure, I can take a shot at that. The agreements that we reached in – initially last November in the Joint Plan of Action we’re carrying through here gives Iran access to its restricted assets in specific tranches. And we have made a very serious effort from the outset to ensure that Iran is able to access the funds from restricted accounts that it has overseas and to move those funds to the destinations that Iran chooses. There have been reports of some difficulties that Iran had at the outset in getting access to these funds. I can say that we have done everything in our power to ensure that the banks that are involved understand that they can move the funds that are made available and to have the funds ultimately end at the destination that the Iranians have specified. I don’t anticipate there being any difficulties going forward in this extended JPOA period with the $2.8 billion that’s going to be released in tranches.
MODERATOR: Great. Well, thank you, everyone, for joining. For those of you who joined late, this was all on background, all of this attributable to Senior Administration Officials. Thanks for hanging with us for these last 20 days, and I’m sure we will be talking about this much more over the coming four months. So with that, everyone have a great weekend and we will see you all back in Washington. Thanks, guys.
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