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Gemunder Center Conference Call on Extension of Iran Nuclear Deadline

On Tuesday, November 24, JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy hosted a conference call on the course of Iran P5+1 negotiations and possible next steps for the United States in the wake of Monday’s extension of the deadline for a final deal on Iran’s nuclear program to June 30, 2015. The briefing featured the co-chairs of the Gemunder Center’s Iran Task Force, Ambassadors Dennis Ross and Eric Edelman, and Task Force member John Hannah.

The following quotes, taken from the full audio [available below] of the call, address recent developments leading to the extension of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) interim agreement, and lay out U.S. strategic options to increase the prospects for an acceptable final agreement within the next seven months.

How should we interpret the outcome of the latest round of talks?

  • “The Iranians were not prepared to give the Obama Administration what it wanted, which was to roll back Iran’s nuclear program to the point where the United States would have a year’s time to detect and do something about any Iranian attempt to break out or sneak out. It’s uncertain whether Iran wouldn’t budge because it wanted to hold out for a better deal, or because the Supreme Leader would only agree to a deal if we capitulate completely. One question worth is discussing is whether negotiations have become the new status quo, and if so, is that sustainable?”

    -Amb. Dennis Ross

  • “In his press conference yesterday, Secretary Kerry said there had been enough progress on intractable issues to earn negotiators the benefit of the doubt. It’s not clear we’ve come far enough to give the benefit of the doubt to extend the talks further. The Administration has retreated from its redlines on Iran’s enrichment program, it has given up on shutting off Iran’s plutonium path to a bomb by converting Arak to a light water reactor, it’s unclear if Iran’s ballistic missiles are still on the table, and the P5+1 may have retreated from demanding full transparency on the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program. If this is the new normal, is it sustainable? Additionally, there are implementation issues with the JPA that make it worrisome to simply extend it, namely Iranian violations and the fact the technical details of implementation have never been published. This will increase the tensions in a final deal, because the Administration will have to place more emphasis on Iranian transparency as it gives ground on the size of Iran’s enrichment capability.”

    -Amb. Eric Edelman

  • “The series of U.S. concessions makes it hard to understand how the Iranians haven’t been able to grab at some of them, and to figure out a way to at least announce major progress on limiting key elements of their nuclear program. It leads to the conclusion that Iran’s not ready to make a deal. Secretary Kerry’s persistence and enthusiasm to get an agreement may have a negative side, which is to make the United States appear somewhat desperate for a deal in the eyes of the Iranians – especially amid the other problems President Obama faces in his foreign policy.”

    -John Hannah

What could the United States do differently to increase the chances of success?

  • “One key question is whether it’s enough for the Obama Administration just to stand firm on its benchmark of a one-year breakout time. If we want to affect Iran’s calculus going forward, we should demonstrate our resolve to compete with it as well as talk with it, to show Iran there are costs if they don’t compromise. We also should make clear that new sanctions will be forthcoming if there’s no agreement. […] Iran needs to understand the price will go up, not down, if there’s no deal or no resolution of PMD. […] We need to look at ways to make sure Iran has the greater interest in the success of diplomacy.”

    -Amb. Dennis Ross

  • “It’s hard to envisage how you get an agreement without changing the trajectory of the talks and Iran’s calculus of what’s in its best interests. To this point all the diplomatic initiatives have come from the U.S. side. Paradoxically this encourages Iran to believe that, the more obdurate it remains, the more concessions the United States will make. So the question is how you alter this dynamic, to get to the point of saying ‘this is our best and final offer, take it or else.’ Absent more sanctions or credible military options if diplomacy fails, it’s unlikely Iran will take this ultimatum seriously.”

    -Amb. Eric Edelman

  • “Given the fact the new interim agreement didn’t resolve at least some nuclear issues, and that Iran’s economy is beginning to recover, the new Congress will look very critically at the Obama Administration’s justification for continuing the talks. It could pass a sanctions-in-waiting bill, which would enact draconian new sanctions absent substantial progress on rolling back important elements of Iran’s enrichment infrastructure. It would be important for the United States to work with our allies on any new sanctions, though it remains to be seen if the Obama Administration would cooperate. The President and Congress could also send a powerful signal by cooperating to fix the defense budget and correct the mistakes of sequestration.”

    -John Hannah

On Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship:

  • “The Israelis made it clear they preferred an extension to a deal. This is a change from their original reaction to the JPA, partly because sanctions haven’t eroded like they initially thought. The smart thing for the Administration to do would be to review with Congress and the Israelis what a possible deal might look like, the potential vulnerabilities that would pose for Israel, and what measures could be undertaken to ensure Iran adheres to the deal.”

    -Amb. Dennis Ross

  • “The breakdown in the U.S.-Israel political relationship has been very unhelpful, and it’s hard to understand how the Obama Administration allowed this to occur – we need to be seen to be working together to stop the Iranian nuclear program, not an Israeli attack.”

    -John Hannah


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