FPI Analysis: What U.S. Officials Said on Iran, What We Know Now

June 29, 2015

Over the past three years, the Obama administration has delineated the criteria that any final nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran must meet. In speeches, congressional testimony, press conferences, and media interviews, administration officials have also articulated their expectations from Tehran with repeated declarations: “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

This FPI Analysis, which updates an earlier publication from January 2015, compiles many of the administration’s own statements on nuclear negotiations with Iran over the past three years, and compares them with current U.S. positions. It also examines U.S. statements on a range of other issues related to U.S. policy toward Tehran, and assesses whether subsequent events have validated them.
 



CONTENTS

I. Requirements for a Good Deal

II. Dismantling Sanctions

III. Iran's Ballistic Missile and Terrorist Threats

IV. U.S. Credibility and the Role of Congress
 



I. REQUIREMENTS FOR A GOOD DEAL

Dismantling Iran’s Nuclear Program

What They Said Then

December 4, 2013: Chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman tells PBS that a final agreement should include “a lot of dismantling of their infrastructure.”

December 10, 2013: “I don’t think that any of us thought we were just imposing these sanctions for the sake of imposing them,” says Secretary of State John Kerry in congressional testimony. “We did it because we knew that it would hopefully help Iran dismantle its nuclear program. That was the whole point of the [sanctions] regime.”

What We Know Now

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement that does not require Tehran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. “Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so,” President Obama says in a Rose Garden statement.

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Iran’s “Right” to Enrich Uranium

What They Said Then

November 24, 2013: “There is no right to enrich,” Secretary of State John Kerry tells ABC News. “We do not recognize a right to enrich. It is clear, in the — in the NPT, in the nonproliferation treaty, it’s very, very [clear] that there is no right to enrich.”

What We Know Now

December 10, 2013: “There is no right to enrich in the NPT,” says Secretary of State John Kerry in House testimony. “But neither is it denied. The NPT is silent on the issue.” In a final agreement, Kerry adds, “I can’t tell you they might not have some enrichment.”

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement that permits Iran to enrich uranium in more than 5,000 centrifuges and to retain more than 1,000 additional centrifuges in storage. “As soon as we got into the real negotiations with them,” a senior U.S. official tells The Wall Street Journal, “we understood that any final deal was going to involve some domestic enrichment capability. But I can honestly tell you, we always anticipated that.”

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The Fordow Enrichment Facility

What They Said Then

December 7, 2013: “We know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordow in order to have a peaceful nuclear program,” says President Obama at the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum.

What We Know Now

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement indicating that Fordow will remain open as a research facility, and may retain approximately 1,000 centrifuges capable of nuclear enrichment.

June 24, 2015: According to a draft appendix to the final deal obtained by the Associated Press (AP), Iran will use Fordow for isotope production rather than uranium enrichment. However, as the AP notes, “isotope production uses the same technology as enrichment and can be quickly re-engineered” for nuclear weapons development.

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The Arak Heavy Water Reactor

What They Said Then

December 10, 2013: “From our point of view, Arak is unacceptable,” says Secretary of State John Kerry in House testimony. “You can’t have a heavy water reactor.”

What We Know Now

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement that leaves the fate of Arak unclear. According to the U.S. version, the overall Arak facility would remain, but the “original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.” The Iranian version of the agreement contains no such provision.

June 24, 2015: According to a draft appendix to the final deal obtained by the AP, Iran will receive “light-water nuclear reactors instead of its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak.” However, a sufficient quantity of light-water reactors can also produce the requisite amount of bomb-grade plutonium to develop a nuclear weapon.

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The Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s Nuclear Program

What They Said Then

February 4, 2014: “We raised possible military dimensions” in the negotiations, says chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman in Senate testimony. “And in fact in the Joint Plan of Action, we have required that Iran come clean on its past actions as part of any comprehensive agreement.”

April 8, 2015: “They have to do it,” Secretary of State John Kerry tells PBS, referring to Tehran’s disclosure of PMD. “It will be done. If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done.”

What We Know Now

June 16, 2015: During a press availability, Secretary of State John Kerry says the Obama administration no longer considers Iran’s disclosure of PMD a priority. “We know what they did,” he says. “We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge with respect to the certain military activities they were engaged in. What we’re concerned about is going forward.” Only eight days earlier, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano had said the agency lacks such knowledge.

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Iran’s Breakout Capacity

What They Said Then

December 7, 2013: “It is my strong belief,” says President Obama at the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum, “that we can envision an end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.”

What We Know Now

April 2, 2015: According to the U.S. version of the framework agreement, Iran will have a breakout time of one year for a duration of at least ten years. The Iranian version and the joint EU-Iran statement omit the issue entirely.

April 7, 2015: “What is a more relevant fear” under a deal, President Obama tells NPR, “would be that in year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”
 



II. DISMANTLING SANCTIONS

The Timing of Sanctions Relief under a Deal

What They Said Then

March 3, 2014: “Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs,” says Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

January 27, 2015: Under a final deal, “the international community would provide Iran with phased sanctions relief tied to verifiable actions on its part,” says Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in Senate testimony.

What We Know Now

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement that leaves the timing of sanctions relief ambiguous. The U.S. version states that Iran will receive sanctions relief “after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps” (emphasis added). Tehran’s version states that sanctions “will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement” (emphasis added). The joint EU-Iran statement says Iran will receive relief “simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments” (emphasis added).

April 17, 2015: Administration officials tell The Wall Street Journal that Iran may receive a signing bonus of $30 billion to $50 billion immediately upon reaching a deal. About a month later, in an interview for The Atlantic, President Obama speaks to the possibility of $150 billion in sanctions relief.

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The Types of Sanctions Relief

What They Said Then

December 12, 2013: “We have said that this agreement pertains only to new nuclear-related sanctions in terms of what we, the European Union and the U.N. Security Council will forego,” says chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman in Senate testimony.

May 1, 2014: “We have made clear that sanctions relating to terrorism and sanctions relating to human rights violations are not covered” under a final deal, says Jake Sullivan, deputy assistant to President Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, at a conference of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

What We Know Now

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement that leaves unclear the types of sanctions relief Tehran will receive. The U.S. version maintains the administration’s earlier position that Iran will receive only nuclear-related sanctions relief. However, according to the Iranian version, “all of the sanctions will be immediately removed after reaching a comprehensive agreement” (emphasis added).

June 9, 2015: The AP reports that the Obama administration, as part of a final deal, will redefine “nuclear-related” sanctions to include sanctions related to ballistic missiles, terrorism and human rights.

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The Impact of Sanctions Relief under the JPOA

What They Said Then

December 10, 2013: In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, David Cohen, the Treasury Department official responsible for overseeing Iran sanctions, calls the sanctions relief in the JPOA “economically insignificant to Iran.” “Iran,” he claims, “will be even deeper in the hole six months from now, when the deal expires, than it is today.”

What We Know Now

February 4, 2015: According to a joint report by Roubini Global Economics and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Iran has escaped from the severe recession that threatened its economy in 2012 and early 2013.” Sanctions relief under the JPOA, the report adds, has resulted in an “improvement in market sentiment to stabilize its economy and build up economic resilience against future sanctions pressure.”

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Sanctions Enforcement during Negotiations

What They Said Then

February 11, 2014: Referring to potential sanctions violators during negotiations, President Obama says, “we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

What We Know Now

June 9, 2015: The U.N. releases a report indicating that countries have failed to report violations of Security Council sanctions, including violations that occurred overtly. This phenomenon could reflect “a political decision by some member states to refrain from reporting to avoid a possible negative impact on ongoing negotiations,” the report states.

June 17, 2015: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report criticizing the Obama administration for a delay of three or more years in providing congressionally mandated reports of sanctions violations under the 2006 Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act. GAO also notes that State Department officials attributed their procrastination to “a variety of political concerns, such as international negotiations.”
 



III. IRAN’S BALLISTIC MISSILE AND TERRORIST THREATS

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program

What They Said Then

February 4, 2014: “So it is true,” says chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman in Senate testimony, “that in these first six months we have not shut down all of their production of any ballistic missile that could have anything to do with delivery of a nuclear weapon, but that is, indeed, going to be part of something that has to be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement.”

What We Know Now

March 19, 2015: “The scope of this agreement, if there is one, is the nuclear program,” says Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in House testimony. “That’s what our partners have agreed to. That is what is being negotiated. It is not a missile agreement.”

April 2, 2015: The P5+1 and Iran reach a framework agreement that leaves the fate of Iran’s ballistic missiles unclear. The U.S. version of the framework vaguely states that a future U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolution will impose “[i]mportant restrictions” on Iran’s ballistic missiles — even though Tehran already remains in violation of five UNSC resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010 that target the program. The Iranian version of the framework and the joint EU-Iran statement omit the issue entirely.

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Intelligence Assessments of the Iranian Terror Threat

What They Said Then

February 26, 2015: Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper releases an annual security report known as the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community that fails to mention Iran and its foremost proxy, Hizballah, as terrorist threats. The omission marks a stark deviation from previous editions.

What We Know Now

June 3, 2015: Following congressional pressure, DNI Clapper acknowledges that the report erred in omitting the Iranian and Hizballah terrorist threat, but insists that the intelligence community (IC) had always recognized it. “A specific reference to the terrorist threat from Iran and Hizballah … would have been appropriate for the 2015 Assessment, but the lack of its inclusion is in no way a change in the IC’s assessment,” he writes.

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The Nature of the Iranian Regime

What They Said Then

December 29, 2014: If Iran and the P5+1 reach a nuclear deal, President Obama tells NPR, “it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody.”

April 7, 2015: “It is possible that if we sign this nuclear deal, we strengthen the hand of those more moderate forces inside of Iran,” President Obama tells NPR.

What We Know Now

March 12, 2015: The United Nations releases a report documenting Tehran’s extensive and unabated human rights abuses against its own people.

March 21, 2015: Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, leads a crowd in chants of “Death to America.” Two days later, the White House says his words were “intended for a domestic political audience.”

June 19, 2015: The State Department releases its annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2014, which indicates that Iran has continued to support the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah, Iraqi Shiite militias, the brutal Assad regime, and Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza. The regime, states the report, has also sought to increase its influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
 



IV. U.S. CREDIBILITY AND ROLE OF CONGRESS

Iran’s Compliance with the JPOA

What They Said Then

July 20, 2014: “Everything that Iran was supposed to do they have done with respect to” the JPOA, Secretary of State John Kerry tells Fox News. He adds, “the world is safer, and this is a smart deal.”

What We Know Now

November 7, 2014: An IAEA report states that Iran has fed gas into an advanced centrifuge known as the IR-5, which David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, describes as “an apparent violation of Iran’s commitment to freeze centrifuge R&D activities at the Natanz pilot plant.”

June 1, 2015: The IAEA states that Iran has increased its stockpile of nuclear fuel by about 20 percent over the previous 18 months of negotiations, reports The New York Times.

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Iran’s Nuclear Program Under the JPOA

What They Said Then

January 20, 2015: “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material,” says President Obama in his State of the Union address, repeating the claim he made upon the JPOA’s announcement in November 2013.

What We Know Now

January 22, 2015: The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gives President Obama’s claim three Pinocchios. Olli Heinonen, former deputy director for safeguards at the IAEA, tells the Post not only that Tehran “is still producing uranium enriched up to 5-percent uranium,” but that the “latter stocks have actually increased.” Nuclear expert David Albright tells the Post that Iran has not reduced its stockpile of 3.5 percent uranium but merely diluted it, a process that is easily reversible. Iran’s nuclear material, says Albright, has increased “about a bomb’s worth during the JPOA.”

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Iran’s Current Breakout Time

What They Said Then

March 14, 2013: “Right now, we think it would take over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon,” President Obama tells Israeli television.

What We Know Now

April 1, 2015: The Obama administration declassifies a years-old intelligence estimate that Iran’s breakout time is two to three months. Approximately three weeks later, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says the administration has held this assessment for “quite some time.”

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Prevention vs. Containment

What They Said Then

March 4, 2012: “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” says President Obama in a speech to AIPAC.

January 24, 2013: “I repeat here today: Our policy is not containment, it is prevention, and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance,” says John Kerry at his confirmation hearing for secretary of state.

What We Know Now

April 7, 2015: In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz write, “negotiations that began 12 years ago as an international effort to prevent an Iranian capability to develop a nuclear arsenal are ending with an agreement that concedes this very capability, albeit short of its full capacity in the first 10 years.” “The gradual expiration of the framework agreement, beginning in a decade,” Kissinger and Shultz add, “will enable Iran to become a significant nuclear, industrial and military power after that time — in the scope and sophistication of its nuclear program and its latent capacity to weaponize at a time of its choosing.”

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The Risk of Regional Proliferation

What They Said Then

March 5, 2015: A nuclear deal with Iran “will reduce the pressure for a regional nuclear arms race, and it will increase the strength of the international nonproliferation regime,” says Secretary of State John Kerry during a press availability.

What We Know Now

May 13, 2015: “Saudi Arabia and many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain” under a deal, The New York Times reports. Prince Turki bin Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief, says during a visit to Seoul that the deal “opens the door to nuclear proliferation, not closes it, as was the initial intention.”

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The Role of Congress

What They Said Then

April 8, 2014: Asked during a Senate hearing whether the Obama administration would consult with Congress about sanctions relief in the event that the P5+1 reaches a final deal with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry says: “Well, of course, we would be obligated to under the law. … What we do will have to pass muster with Congress. We well understand that.”

July 29, 2014: “President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the entire administration understand how vital a role Congress and this Committee play in shaping U.S. policy towards Iran,” chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman states in written testimony to the Senate. “We remain committed to regular consultations, to hearing from you, and to sharing ideas.”

What We Know Now

February 28, 2015: The White House threatens to veto the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which would allow Congress to vote on any deal with Iran. When the legislation gains enough congressional support to override a veto, President Obama relents, ultimately signing the bill into law on May 22 after near-unanimous votes in the House and Senate.

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The Military Option

What They Said Then

Selected Statements by President Obama on the Military Option against Iran

  • “As president of the United States, I don’t bluff.” (March 2, 2012)
     
  • “I will take no options off the table.” (March 4, 2012)
     
  • “When I say all options are at the table, I mean it.” (March 5, 2012)
     
  • “I will repeat that we take no options off the table.” (September 30, 2013)
     
  • “When the president of the United States says that he doesn’t take any options off the table, that should be taken seriously.” (December 7, 2013)
     
  • “[I] stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.” (January 28, 2014)
     
  • “Now, if Iran ends up ultimately not being able to say yes [to a deal] … then we’re going to have to explore other options.” (January 16, 2015)
     
  • “I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.” (January 20, 2015)

What We Know Now

May 29, 2015: “A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States participates,” President Obama tells Israeli television. “It would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it.”

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No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal”

What They Said Then

“No deal is better than a bad deal.”

(A Selected List)

– President Barack Obama, December 7, 2013

– Secretary of State John Kerry, November 10, 2013

– National Security Advisor Susan Rice, November 13, 2013

– Secretary of State John Kerry, November 24, 2013

– Secretary of State John Kerry, December 7, 2014

– Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, January 21, 2015

– Secretary of State John Kerry, March 1, 2015

– National Security Advisor Susan Rice, March 2, 2015

What We Know Now

June 24, 2015: In a public statement on the Iran nuclear negotiations, a bipartisan group of American diplomats, legislators, policymakers, and experts — including five former Obama administration officials — writes:

The agreement will not prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability. It will not require the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear enrichment infrastructure. …

…we fear that the current negotiations … may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a “good” agreement.

The Obama administration remains on the verge of signing such an agreement.

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FPI Intern Ben Ehrlich contributed research to this report.

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