Ignorance: the Greatest Obstacle to Overcome in Reaching a Deal with Iran

Ignorance: the Greatest Obstacle to Overcome in Reaching a Deal with Iran
As negotiations to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran hang in the balance, former Congressman from Kansas Jim Slattery sat down with Barbara Slavin, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, to discuss Slattery’s recent trip to Tehran and his perspective of the current negations with a focus on the person-to-person aspect of the U.S.-Iran relationship. His insights provide a valuable glimpse into the atmosphere on the ground in Iran at this critical time.

A Retroactive Justification for Obama’s Nobel

A Retroactive Justification for Obama's Nobel
Jon Stewart, on his February 5th episode of the Daily Show, doled out both criticism and support to the main-players of the P5+1 Iran nuclear negotiations. Stressing the importance of the agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, Stewart opened with a backhanded compliment to the president: “eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran while bringing it into the community of nations would be an enormous achievement, just the sort of thing to retroactively justify a Nobel Peace Prize.”

Sanctions and Extensions: How Much Will Iran Receive?

Sanctions and Extensions: How Much Will Iran Receive?

Negotiations with Iran are set to resume in Geneva on January 18, and with a new deadline for an agreement looming, returning lawmakers are poised to make a move toward additional sanctions. Republicans may choose to hold off until signs of a breakdown in negotiations have surfaced, but others have suggested that a bill could move more quickly. On the Sunday before Congress reconvened for the new year, Sen. Corker said that a bill would be expected to move through “regular order” in the banking committee, but did not imply that would happen immediately. His answer when asked about timing was, “we’ll see.” But Sen. Graham has suggested that a bill will be taken up in January.

Front and Center: 11/22-12/6


An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

November 22 – December 6 WHAT’S NEW:

Diplomacy Extended: On November 24th, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped to the podium in Vienna to report that negotiations have brought the parties very close to achieving a comprehensive deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, but that more time was needed. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation released a statement praising the progress made by our negotiators, and urging Congress to stand this one out. Read the press release on our website, and read more about the extension on our blog. [12/24]

The Bulldozers in Congress: As soon as news of the extension hit, a few of the likely suspects in Congress began calling for yet more sanctions on Iran—which would effectively scuttle the negotiations. To learn more about how their plans are already backfiring, read our blog on Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, which featured these bulldozers. Want to help us foil their plans to throw a wrench in diplomacy? Sign the Council for a Livable World’s petition to urge Congress to let the experts at the table do their jobs.

How Low Can We Go: The current U.S. stockpile of 5,000 nuclear weapons is an improvement compared to the 30,000 we once maintained during the Cold War. But in reality, our nuclear force is still significantly higher than what is needed for deterrence, and much more costly than what we can afford. In a recent article published in the National Interest, Center Chair Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn make a convincing case for adopting a minimal deterrence strategy in order to save big both in terms of risk and in budget. [12/1]


Center & Council Board Members Defend the Extension With Iran
We’re beyond fortunate to have Council Board Member Jim Walsh and Center National Advisory Board Member Ed Levine as respected voices on the complex negotiations with Iran. Since the announcement of the extension last week, Jim has offered his expert analysis, including in this op-ed and article. For his part, Ed went live at the Brookings Institution to discuss the road ahead. Stay tuned for more from Jim and Ed as the negotiations go forth!

What You Need To Know About This Year’s NDAA
The NDAA is the single largest authorization bill that Congress considers, and gives the Pentagon and the national security programs of the Department of Energy the legal authority to fund and operate their activities. Although the House passed its own version in May, the Senate has not, and both chambers have agreed behind closed doors to a 1600-page compromise defense bill for Fiscal Year 2015. Luckily, our policy experts have put together a “Cliff Notes” version to tell you all you need to know about the final bill. Be sure to check out the NDAA FY 15 summary on our website. (You can thank us later!) [12/4]

Senator Feinstein Speaks Out on Nuclear Reductions
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a longtime ally on our issues, has yet again proved her dedication to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons by publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post. (Spoiler alert: The current arsenal is unaffordable and unnecessary.) Not coincidentally, this week, Council for a Livable World was one of nine organizations to have had the honor of awarding the Senator for her leadership on nuclear security issues. Read more about Senator Feinstein’s article and her tremendous leadership on our blog. [12/5]


Climbing the Ladder toward Nuclear Security
Yesterday, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller took the stage in Prague—the same place where in 2009, President Obama announced his pledge for a nuclear-weapons free world—to announce a new disarmament project. The State Department will partner with the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bring together experts on disarmament verification from around the world to “better understand the technical problems of verifying nuclear disarmament, and to develop solutions.” On our blog, Sarah Tully points to this project as a rung on the tall ladder that Obama must climb to solidify a strong legacy on nuclear security. [12/5]

How to Save $160 Billion
Yesterday, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller took the stage in Prague—the same place where in 2009, President Obama announced his pledge for a nuclear-weapons free world—to announce a new disarmament project. The State Department will partner with the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bring together experts on disarmament verification from around the world to “better understand the technical problems of verifying nuclear disarmament, and to develop solutions.” On our blog, Sarah Tully points to this project as a rung on the tall ladder that Obama must climb to solidify a strong legacy on nuclear security. [12/3]

Obama Tells Chuck: To the Left, To the Left
To put it simply, November 24th was a busy day at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation office. Just as news of an Iran extension surfaced, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation. Be sure to read as Sarah Tully discusses how Hagel’s successor (likely the recently nominated Ash Carter) will be forced to deal with a tight ship at the White House, and a projected budget that’s on course to bust the caps. Stay tuned for more analysis on what Carter may do for our issues. [11/26]

Hearing Backfires for Iran Diplomacy Bulldozers Menendez and Corker

This was a bad week for adversaries of a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday entitled “Dismantling Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Next Steps to Achieve a Comprehensive Deal,” Senators Bob Menendez and Bob Corker presented their respective legislative proposals in opposition to the P5+1 and Iran negotiations. Both bills threaten to undo any progress that’s been made in Vienna on a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.  

Menendez and Corker had a hand in selecting expert witnesses for the hearing: Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute, Gary Samore, president of United Against Nuclear Iran and of Harvard’s Belfer Center, and David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Given past statements from all three, the deck should have been stacked in their favor. But things didn’t go according to plan.

Republican Senator Rand Paul expressed his optimism about the negotiations based off of Iran’s compliance with the interim deal to date.

“But to my mind [inspections of Iran’s nuclear program] would be better than no negotiations. It would be better than war with Iran. Once we have war with Iran there will be no more inspections. Once the first bomb drops, you’ll never have another inspection inside of Iran,” said Sen. Paul.

He also pressed Samore to concede that our allies would not support sanctions imposed unilaterally by Congress.


Menendez, for his part, would like to move “trigger sanctions” legislation that would automatically impose new sanctions on Iran in the event that the two sides can’t come to an agreement by March 2015. In the words of David Albright, however, this type of legislation is perceived “by the Iranians as putting a gun to their heads and leads them to put together I guess what I would call trigger advancements in their nuclear program…And so there’s worry about that, that the trigger sanctions could backfire.”

Albright suggests that if the U.S. plays its ace of harder economic sanctions, Iran will too. Smothering Iran with sanctions, then, could very well press it to renew its efforts to enrich uranium to a high enough level to build a bomb—the very last thing anyone interested in U.S. national security would want.

In July, Senators Corker and Graham sponsored a separate piece of legislation called the “Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014.” The bill, which would have forced the Senate to vote on a resolution of disapproval on any final deal with Iran, was ultimately scuttled by Congress. Responding to Corker’s bill, both Samore and Albright pointed to the disconnect between what the Administration and Congress view as the fundamentals of an acceptable deal.“As long as there’s such a divergence in terms of what would constitute an acceptable deal,” said Samore, “I think it’s difficult to come to an agreement on whether Congress should put itself in the position of approving an agreement.”

Of course Menendez, Corker and Graham aren’t the only ones on the Hill trying to derail nuclear negotiations.

At a roundtable discussion with reporters this week, Rep. Mike Pompeo belligerently said, “[in] an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”

Senate-elect Tom Cotton added his own wild speculation to the mix, speaking on the possibility of Islamist extremists collaborating with Mexican drug cartels to cross the border. “They could collaborate on our southern border because it’s so porous and defenseless could easily be used by a terrorist to infiltrate and attack us,” he said.

Neither Pompeo nor Cotton backed their claims up with facts or rationale, but who needs those? Sen.-elect Cotton’s slippery attempt to tie in immigration to Islamic extremism speaks to a greater theme, a blatant Republican effort to stymie Obama’s potential foreign policy successes across the board. As James Carville points out in the The Hill this week, conservatives can’t stand the idea of a deal with Iran “because they know what Tessio says in ‘The Godfather’ is true, when he finds out Michael would be taking a different car: ‘Hell, he can’t do that; that screws up all my arrangements.’” If the Obama administration is able to strike a successful, verifiable deal (which is still no guarantee) the implications for 2016 could be huge.

A Congressional roadblock is not inevitable, however. Speaking at an event on the Iran negotiations at Brookings, Center advisory board member Ed Levine suggested Congress may be able to draft a sanctions bill tailored to the specifics of what the P5+1 is offering at the negotiating table. This would trigger sanctions only if Iran doesn’t sign on.  As it appears, Congress has room to redeem itself. But Ed points out, “That would be a very difficult piece of legislation for Congress because it would involve giving up on more maximalist goals.”

Ultimately, both sides of the debate want the same thing: to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Military action against Iran, as Sen.-elect Cotton suggests, is an irresponsible policy suggestion. Not only because the issue can (and hopefully will) be solved through diplomacy, but a unilateral attack would quickly snowball into yet another war in the Middle East. And additional sanctions, as evidenced by comments from both Samore and Albright, would likely not have the intended consequence of bettering our hand at the table. As much as Congress would like to intervene, or just hates the fact on its face, the most promise for success lies in ongoing negotiations.

Right now, it might be best for the rest of us to sit back and let the folks at the table do their jobs.

Perspective from Tehran: A Young Iranian on the Nuclear Talks, Written by Brenna Gautam

Written by Brenna Gautam

As an American college student, I have followed the Iran negotiations as a removed observer. Reading political blogs and browsing IAEA reports is about as close to the reality of the negotiations themselves as I can get from my cozy university in northern Indiana.

I’ve watched from afar as reports on the progress of diplomacy with Iran become more and more pessimistic, as my congressmen grow more and more impatient with the lack of a comprehensive deal. I’ve listened as they’ve given statements on the dangers and risks of extending the agreement deadline while ignoring the benefits that come with continued negotiations. Diplomacy builds trust and strengthens confidence. Dialogue brings people together. So why would walking away from the negotiating table be in anyone’s interest?

Like so many of my peers, I suffer from a burning desire to create positive change in the world combined with a feeling of helplessness in the face of US foreign policymakers’ decisions. I know that I am only one student, but I’ve often found myself wishing that I could send a message to the negotiating team, to my government officials, and most importantly to Iran itself.

So I decided to reach out to Iran.

Meet Mehdi Dehnavi, a young academic from Tehran. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to connect with Mehdi through an online networking website and get a sense of a young Iranian’s perspective on the negotiation extension. I asked Mehdi to share some of his thoughts regarding the extension, and this is the message he sent in reply:

“It is important to look at Iran’s history before assessing its present. After the Iranian revolution and the revolutionary discourse, development windows in Iran closed. The Iranians did not want this; they just did not want to be dependent. Iraq, with the help and green light of outside powers, attacked Iran, and was met with resistance. Much of this resistance was based upon national dignity.

We Iranians stand against excessive violence. This is a lesson from history and from Iran’s national character. National memory of the oil industry conflict in 1953 has tried to break Iran, but we are still alive. As an Iranian, I see that my country must maintain rational and respectful relationships with others, and I call on other countries to do the same. We know that 2014 is not 1953, but we do not see a big difference in the approach of the West.

Yet there is no doubt in our minds that the world needs stability and peace more than anything else.

An Iranian nuclear challenge with the West would be useless. Who would create such a challenge? Iran is a wise and pragmatic country. Why would we want our costs to increase from sanctions? For which purpose: to defend or attack?

If our purpose were to attack, I would ask: attack whom? Practically, unlike the great powers of today, Iran has not invaded another country for at least the past 100 years. And despite the fact that nuclear powers like the United States have threatened to nuke us, we are against war.

Some worry that we would create a nuclear challenge to defend ourselves, from a power like Israel. But this is nothing more than chatter. Iran is a large and powerful country in the Middle East and even without nuclear capabilities it could enact rapid and devastating retaliation upon an attacker. For this reason, I do not believe Israel would attack Iran. Arabs also do not have a reason for a military attack on Iran. We don’t need nuclear weapons for defense or for attack.

With no deal reached yesterday, the governments of Iran and America are both in very pessimistic mindsets, afraid of a new Cold War. But the balance here is not dependent on the weapons; rather, the future of the negotiations is dependent on rationality and respect. We do not need bombs. Peace is the mother of all good.”

-Mehdi Dehvani, Malek Ashtar University (MUT) in Tehran

I am an American student. I do not share Mehdi’s national history, I do not speak his mother tongue, and I do not live under the economic sanctions he endures. Yet we are both two young people who want the same fundamental things: rationality, respect, stability and peace.

I hope that our respective governments can similarly find common ground as we enter into another round of negotiations.

Brenna Gautam was an intern with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in the Summer of 2014. She attends the University of Notre Dame.

Front and Center: 11/22


An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

November 8 – November 22 WHAT’S NEW:

The Disillusioned Babysitters of America’s Nuclear Weapons
Last Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a lengthy press conference in which he pledged to invest billions to repair a U.S. nuclear enterprise that’s falling apart at the seams. Hagel’s comments were made seemingly in response to in-depth assessments of the nuclear silos and personnel from Mother Jones and New York Magazine, both of which offered the same conclusions: the U.S. nuclear fleet is out of date, and so is its mission. Angela Canterbury, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, articulates it well in the Wall Street Journal, “They’re going to throw billions of dollars at this problem, which is like saying they’re going to throw billions of dollars at dial-up Internet.”

Closing in on a Deal
With just a few days until the November 24 deadline to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, Policy Director Laicie Heeley has been busy keeping the media fully apprised of the latest on the negotiations, and of course her expert analysis. Watch her interview on Voice of America, and read her quotes in the International Business Times and Bloomberg News.

Recognizing Our Allies on Capitol Hill
On the evening of November 18th, the nuclear security community gathered to recognize our Congressional allies in support of more sensible nuclear weapons policies. On behalf of the Center and the Council, executive director Angela Canterbury presented the award to Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who co-founded and chairs Congress’s Nuclear Security Working Group. Other award recipients included Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).


The Highest Priority Mission?
Watch Senior Fellow John Isaacs give his analysis of Hagel’s press conference and the Pentagon’s plans to overhaul the nuclear weapons enterprise on HuffPost Live. [11/18]



Slush Fund
Laws are made for a reason–but then sometimes the government finds a way to circumvent them: the Overseas Contingency Operations account is a poster child. Angela Canterbury and Sarah Tully take to the blog to show that, with Obama’s recent request, the Pentagon and Congress are poised to use this off-budget account as a slush fund and to evade the budget caps yet again. Is this necessary? Read more here. [11/21]

Making Good on Prague Promises
This year, Obama has gone under fire for continuing to stumble in the wrong direction over U.S. nuclear weapons policies. Last week, however, the Obama Administration finally made some forward progress by announcing the U.S. will attend the 2014 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in early December. Read our press release and learn more on our blog. [11/10]

Thawing the Ice
Ever since Putin’s hasty seizure of the Crimea last spring, nearly two decades of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation has deteriorated to an icy standstill, with diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic folding their arms and turning their backs on nuclear security teamwork. Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn provides analysis from various experts who all agree that new approaches are needed to bridge the impasse. [11/17]

Thawing the Ice
Along the same vein, this week marked the twenty-year anniversary of Project Sapphire, a major diplomatic success in removing and down-blending loose nuclear material from the former Soviet Union in 1994. Programs intern Sarah Tully writes, “Fissile material across the country was stored in rooms and warehouses easy for an amateur burglar to crack…with a Civil War padlock…The threat of nuclear war isn’t our greatest danger, loose nuclear material and weapons are.” The point bears repeating: diplomacy with Russia is our best chance of keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands. [11/21

Update from Vienna: Progress Continues on Iran Talks

Just as Barack Obama finished eulogizing Chuck Hagel’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State John Kerry came on the air from Vienna to announce more unfortunate news: the P5+1 negotiating team was unable to come to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran before today’s deadline.

“In these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface. And that is why we are jointly…extending these talks for seven months with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months.”

Kerry, in a tone of determination unseen after the July extension, went on to underscore the success of the interim deal that was put in place last November, largely thanks to Iran’s compliance under the interim deal, and the strict inspections regime that was able to verify Iran’s cooperation.

Later that day, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif echoed much of the same, again citing “new ideas” that had come to the table in the last hours, disappointment for not obtaining a deal by the deadline, and an eagerness to close the remaining gaps to establish a political framework well before the March deadline.

As soon as it became clear what the officials in Vienna would be reporting, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation released a statement of its own to issue deserved praise for the negotiating teams, who have worked tirelessly and made real progress on solving this nuclear puzzle.

Policy Director Laicie Heeley gave specifics about what an extension will look like, including a continued freeze on Iran’s nuclear program. In his statement, Kerry also applauded the interim deal for scaling back the program, citing Iran’s “zero” stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

A year after Iran, the U.S., and their international partners sealed an interim deal, we must remind ourselves that we are already safer than we were one year ago.

“One year ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium, and even shorter breakout time. Today, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back for the first time in a decade,” said Kerry this morning.

Angela Canterbury, Executive Director of the Center, went on to express optimism that a deal be inked, else the opportunity will come for hardliners in both the US and Iran. Presumably, should parties end up walking away from the table with no agreement in place, hardliners in Iran could race toward a nuclear weapon and reverse the progress of the past year. And in the US, congressional hawks could race toward more crippling sanctions or–worse–toward war. “Congress must ask tough questions, said Canterbury, “but allow negotiators the space to press for a good deal, and then verify it to make us safer.”

We’ve seen diplomacy and cooperation, combined with monitoring and verification, bring Iran’s nuclear program to a standstill. Iran and the U.S. are still at the table, eager to finish these negotiations and come to a good deal.

Today was not a failure to come to an agreement. Rather, today was an indication of continued progress on difficult and complex negotiations. Today was an indication the success of these diplomatic efforts—preventing a nuclear-armed Iran—is closer than we realized, and that our diplomats are more eager than ever to get there.