ACTION ALERT: Iran Nuclear Talks A Historic Breakthrough
April 4, 2015
Barbara Slavin/ Al Jazeera America & Ben Piven / Al Jazeera America & Leon Wofsy
After a negotiating session that literally went all night, Iranian and US officials announced a historic framework for a long-term nuclear agreement restricting Iran's ability to make nuclear weapons for more than a decade. "Iran's full compliance with its international nuclear obligations would open the door to its receiving treatment as a normal non-nuclear-weapon state," US State Department declared. But many political unknowns may govern how quickly those doors open.
ACTION ALERT: Thank President Obama
For Choosing Diplomacy over War
(April 3, 2015) -- President Obama has announced a historic agreement with Iran to curb that nation's nuclear program. But war hawks in Congress are steaming mad because of the deal. They’re so hell-bent on launching another war, they attacked the agreement before they even knew what was in it.
ACTION: Sign our letter to thank President Obama for ignoring the war hawks and choosing diplomacy:
Sign your name by clicking here.
"President Obama, thank you for choosing diplomacy over war with Iran. Let the war hawks howl all they want. America knows you made the right choice."
Yesterday, President Obama announced a truly historic deal with Iran to prevent them from creating nuclear weapons. However, instead of celebrating this major act of diplomacy, Republican war hawks, condemned it, insisting that the matter should be settled with (no surprise) war.
After two wars in the Middle East that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, it’s outrageous that Republicans still believe war is the best answer! In fact, John Boehner is even criticizing Obama by calling him an "anti-war President."
Seriously? Isn’t that a good thing? We should be thankful that we finally have a president that is courageous enough to stand up to these warmongers.
Iran Nuclear Talks Produce Historic Breakthrough
Barbara Slavin/ Al Jazeera America
(April 2, 2015) -- A much-tweeted photo of Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week showed him looking pensively out the window of his five-star hotel room in Lausanne, Switzerland.
"John, don't jump," wrote one Twitter humorist, reflecting concerns that Kerry might be despondent after days of hard bargaining with Iran and the other members of the so-called P5+1 -- the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China.
But on Thursday evening, after a negotiating session that literally went all night, Iranian and US officials announced a historic framework for a long-term comprehensive nuclear agreement severely restricting Iran's ability to make nuclear weapons for more than a decade.
After the gloom and doom of previous days, in which negotiators blew through a March 31 deadline for a political framework imposed by the Obama administration, Thursday's breakthrough seemed all the more sweet.
Negotiators must still finalize the provisions of the deal by June 30, when an interim accord that has been twice extended expires. But there was much more detail released by Iranian and US officials than had been anticipated, given Iran's reluctance to announce concessions in advance of completing an accord.
The United States, not surprisingly, emphasized the restrictions on the Iranian program while Iran stressed relief of sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy and soured the mood of the long-suffering Iranian people.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House, Iran has agreed to cut its installed centrifuges -- the machines that spin and enrich uranium -- by two-thirds from about 19,000 to about 6,000, of which only 5,060 will be allowed to operate for the next 10 years. Iran also agreed not to use more advanced centrifuge models for a decade. For 15 years, it will not enrich uranium beyond a low level and will restrict its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 300 kilograms -- not enough for a single weapon.
The fact sheet did not say how Iran would do this -- whether by sending its stockpile to another country or blending it into a less risky form.
Iran also agreed not to enrich uranium at its facility at Fordow for 15 years, although the underground plant can be used for peaceful purposes such as making medical isotopes.
The Iranians, according to the fact sheet, will shut off another potential pathway to a bomb by ripping out the core of a heavy water reactor under construction at Arak and replacing it with technology that yields a smaller amount of plutonium.
Iran has promised to send out spent fuel from Arak and not to build a plant to reprocess it, effectively preventing Tehran from using the method to build weapons that North Korea employed when it quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003.
The Iranians have also agreed to intrusive inspections including access to uranium mines and mills for 25 years, and to centrifuge production sites for 20 years. It accepted the Additional Protocol of the NPT -- which allows for short-notice inspections -- in perpetuity. These measures should make it difficult for Iran to sneak out and build a nuclear weapon covertly.
It was left to Iran's US-educated foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to lay out what Iran gets in return.
Switching effortlessly from Farsi to English, Zarif told a horde of exhausted journalists in Switzerland that all previous United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning the Iranian program and imposing sanctions on Tehran would be lifted, along with European Union sanctions and US so-called secondary sanctions that inhibit other countries from normal trade with Iran.
The US fact sheet said a new UN resolution would be passed that maintains restrictions on conventional arms transfers to Iran, including sanctions related to ballistic missiles.
US officials said sanctions relief would be phased in as Iran implements its part of the deal. Among the issues not discussed in detail on Thursday was how Iran would satisfy the international community's concerns about possible past military-related dimensions of its program, and how that might be tied to full sanctions relief.
Zarif called the framework a win-win deal that had "stopped a cycle that was not in the interest of anyone."
President Barack Obama, speaking from the White House Rose Garden on a lovely spring afternoon, pronounced the framework "a good deal" that would make the world -- including nervous US allies in the Middle East -- safer.
Now both sides will have to convince critics inside and outside their countries that they are right. That will not be an easy task.
Obama began the selling job with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, whom Obama called before speaking to the press -- and, tellingly, before calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Republican leaders of the US Congress. Obama said he would invite all the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council to Camp David this spring to discuss how he can shore up their security.
Administration officials said the US would also reach out to Israel to address its concerns about Iran's destabilizing activities in the region.
Netanyahu has infuriated Obama by campaigning relentlessly against what the Israeli leader has called a bad deal that threatens Israel's security.
As for Congress, it is on a Passover-Easter break, giving the administration time to make its case to individual members before April 14, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on legislation that would give the House of Representatives and Senate the ability to block an Iran agreement. Obama promised on Thursday to brief Congress thoroughly on the details of the framework, but initial reaction from Republicans was skeptical.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said in a statement that the Obama administration should not "bypass Congress and head straight to the UN Security Council," but should give Congress a chance to "weigh in" on a deal.
"It is important that we wait to see the specific details of today's announcement, and as the P5-plus-one works toward any final deal, we must remain clear-eyed regarding Iran's continued resistance to concessions, long history of covert nuclear weapons-related activities, support of terrorism, and its current role in destabilizing the region," Corker said.
Nuclear experts who have been skeptical of the negotiations sounded more positive on Thursday. Gary Samore, an expert at Harvard University's Belfer Center, told Al Jazeera that the framework was "better than expected but still many important details [need] to be resolved, especially on the inspection and monitoring mechanisms."
Samore said the framework achieves the administration's goal of preventing Iran from amassing enough fuel for a weapon for a year "as long as the surplus low enriched uranium" remains at 300 kilograms or below. He also noted that "the disposition of the surplus LEU (low-enriched uranium) is not specified in the framework," and said that would be "an important detail for the final agreement."
Perhaps the most enthusiastic response came from ordinary Iranians who listened to Obama's comments broadcast live on local television: a first in a country that has been estranged from the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Tehranis, who were celebrating the last day of their two-week New Year holiday, honked horns and sent each other congratulatory text messages including this one: "The winter is over."
Sanctions on Iran: Long Road
Ahead for Lifting UN, EU, US Embargoes
Ben Piven / Al Jazeera America
(April 3, 2015) -- "Iran's full compliance with its international nuclear obligations would open the door to its receiving treatment as a normal non-nuclear-weapon state," the US State Department declares on its website about Washington's phased policy of "reversible sanctions relief."
Many political unknowns govern how quickly the door opens. Among them are technical issues about lifting a decades-old system of sanctions that must be hammered out by June 30.
Threats of stronger sanctions have long been used to induce Iran into making concessions in negotiations with the West. Put in place to thwart Iran's development of atomic weapons, critics argue the sanctions have caused serious problems for Iran's people and done little to halt a bomb-making scheme that may or may not exist.
Originating in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, damaging sanctions on Iran are controlled by world powers at the national and supranational levels. The United Nations and European Union rules may be simplest to lift, as compared with those imposed by the US -- especially those subject to Congressional approval.
The oldest regulations were slapped directly on Iran's government, and in 1995, American sanctions expanded to include any firms dealing with the regime in Tehran. Iran's long-standing nuclear program was first revealed to the public in 2002, before the supreme leader reportedly nixed weaponization efforts the following year.
But the "inter-locking matrix of sanctions" that today forms a stranglehold around Iran's economy was enacted between 2006 and 2012, as punishment for the country's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment following a damning IAEA report on the country's non-compliance.
Freezing assets belonging to key figures and companies tied to the nuclear program came first. In 2007, a UN arms embargo took effect with Resolution 1747. Then the bulk of subsequent US sanctions were applied to the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, in addition to insurance companies, shipping firms, banks and the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
By 2010, the UN had passed travel bans, and that year Resolution 1929 sanctioned all activities related to Iran's ballistic missile program. There's a long list of Iranian entities with whom all external business is forbidden.
One of the major sticking points of the framework deal in Lausanne, Switzerland, was the pace at which the Security Council sanctions will be eased. "All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all [emphasis added] key concerns," said a State Dept. statement that addressed the general parameters.
"Security Council sanctions and resolutions don't perform much work other than providing rhetorical cover for national-level sanctions," said Tyler Cullis, a legal analyst at the National Iranian American Council, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group for the Iranian-American community. "The UN has symbolic value that the two sides are competing over."
However, Cullis said the speed of relieving UN sanctions was not the only variable for the world body, where the Russians and Chinese have been closer to the Iranian position on this issue, preferring that all sanctions be immediately thrown out when an accord is reached.
The US, UK, France and Germany have been arguing for sanctions to be rolled back in parallel to steps taken by Tehran in line with the deal. Western powers advocated for a mechanism by which sanctions "could be re-imposed" quickly in the event of "significant non-performance" by Iran.
But the process is in such early stages that diplomats have been hesitant to comment on possible outcomes. A spokesman for the government of Spain, which chairs the Security Council committee overseeing Iran sanctions, said that it was too early to speculate on the results of negotiations. Jordan, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council for April, also declined to comment.
"US sanctions are the ones that the Iranians care about the most," Cullis said. He said President Barack Obama has the power to make substantial changes to the US sanctions on Iran, including suspending them for a time-limited period, licensing otherwise-prohibited activities or transactions, and taking persons or entities off the list of the "specially designated nationals."
"It'll be done coincident with whatever actions Iran has to take. It could take several months before the US starts to formally relieve sanctions." Official diplomatic language published Thursday appears to confirm that reality: "US and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place."
Regardless, on the domestic front, Obama faces major Congressional dissent.
Proposed Senate legislation called the Corker-Menendez bill, aimed at giving Congress more authority over the Iran deal, strives to create a two-stage process whereby Congress could review any agreement with Iran for a 60-day period, then decide whether to approve the deal.
But without a supermajority, Congress won't ha cross the Atlantic, EU sanctions will be removed relatively easily, since there is more widespread agreement among the bloc's dominant countries on the deal, Cullis said.
"The EU will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions," a joint statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, after Iran fulfills "its key nuclear commitments."
This would include lifting the oil embargo, which could help double Iran's petroleum exports within a year, providing significant economic benefit. Sanctions relief implemented by nations ranging from China and Japan to India and Canada would likely follow suit.
"Each of the sanctions has its own logic and legal ways of untangling," said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University. "But the sanctions on the sale of oil have to go first."
"Lifting the entire sanctions regime could take longer than 12 months," Milani said.
In 2013, Iran was granted $7 billion in sanctions relief after agreeing in an interim nuclear deal to curb uranium enrichment and allow enhanced inspections. More than $4 billion in frozen assets were also made available. However, this number pales in comparison to the approximately $100 billion mostly held in Asian banks that Iran would be able to repatriate once it can again access the international wire transfer system known as SWIFT.
Despite low world oil prices, Iran stands to gain up to $60 billion from foreign direct investment in its petroleum sector. Eased trade rules on many sectors and for foreign companies that no longer have to fear the consequences of doing business with Iran could also give a quick boost Iran's economy.
Domestically, Iran hopes to lower rampant inflation, curtail consumer reliance on the black market and repair ailing airplanes, among other things. Meanwhile, US exporters are said to have lost out on revenues to the tune of $175 billion over the last two decades of all but nonexistent trade with Iran.
While Iran will not be able to import nuclear-related goods for years, the prospect of sanctions relief, even at a more incremental rate than Tehran wants, will anger conservative Republicans, pro-Israel activists and regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia. However, optimists continue to see encouraging signs of detente, encouraged by the 2013 election of reformist Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
"The UN sanctions get a lot of attention, but I believe it's the secondary US sanctions and the EU's listing of certain Iranian banks which have had the most significant impact on Iran," said Erich Ferrari, a DC-based attorney who focuses on issues involving the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
"But there is still the issue of Iran's alleged support of groups deemed by the US and others of being terror organizations, Iran's actions being perceived as underlying stability in the Middle East and Iran's human rights record at home," Ferrari told Al Jazeera. "For those reasons, the US will maintain that some level of sanctions need to remain in place."
Praise for Obama
BERKELEY (April 4, 2015) -- There have been and will be other days to criticize Obama. But today he deserves full praise and great respect. It is a monumental achievement to keep the US on track with other world powers and Iran toward peaceful resolution of differences rather than resort to war.
No President has encountered fiercer resistance from a hawkish chorus in Congress, including within his own party. The political winds in Washington and in Israel are blowing against any international agreement with Iran, against any change of course in US policy away from our failed reliance on military force.
Obama has persisted. Today he made his case to the American people with logic and clarity. Implicit was something more important than the specifics of a "deal". If the US can cooperate in this matter with Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain, why not elsewhere where tensions risk conflict and war?
Instead of freezing our outlook on the world in terms of whom Washington perceives as "ally" and whom as "foe," why not recognize areas of common interest that make negotiation over difficult problems necessary and viable.
There are winds across the globe other than the blowhard rhetoric of Netanyahu and his Congressional cheering section. No doubt the Iran negotiations are progressing because most of the world abhors the prospect of more war.
Even our European "allies" have become wary of aggressive and risky US behavior. As Obama indicated today, if the US were to back off from a developing agreement with Iran, it would separate itself from the other major powers who are party to the negotiations.
If our people refuse to be stampeded by a reckless hawkish outcry, today may mark a significant step toward a less war-oriented foreign policy. The alternative is increasing alienation from the rational world community, sharing the isolation and opprobrium that is mounting against Netanyahu's colonialist regime.
Leon Wofsy is Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology / Immunology at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the editor of the book, Cold War, Before the Point of No Return (Monthly Review Press) and his memoir, Looking for the Future (IW Rose Press) is available online in the Free Speech Movement Archives, Book Collection, UC Bancroft Library.
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