The Strategic Importance of an Iranian Nuclear Agreement

July 14, 2014 | Edited by Lauren Mladenka and Geoff Wilson

Iran deal needed - “The advance in Iraq and Syria of the Islamic State poses a threat to the United States while clarifying choices for U.S. policymakers. The question confronting the United States and Iran is no longer whether to work together but how to do so. And in light of decades of distrust and animosity, communications between the two countries can be greatly facilitated by reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement in talks underway in Vienna. Failure, however, would leave only bad options,” write Ambassadors Ryan Crocker, William Luers and Thomas Pickering for The Washington Post.

--“Both sides are clearly committed to making a maximum effort to get a nuclear agreement by July 20, and a good accord is within reach. Despite the expectations of many observers, remarkable headway has been made. Iran has already met most of the demands of the six nations involved in the talks, and the sides are working to establish a practical time frame for Iran to comply with limits on its nuclear program under extraordinary monitoring and safeguards.”

--“A new strategic relationship between the United States and Iran may seem impossible and risky, yet it is also necessary and in the interests of both. While an alliance is out of the question, mutually informed parallel action is essential. Another Arab proverb advises, ‘At the narrow passage there is no brother or friend.’ Indeed, as we enter a new era of Middle East conflict, the path is narrow and fraught, and the United States will have to work with many strange bedfellows. But with the right nuclear agreement and pragmatic strategic decisions by Tehran and Washington, there is a way forward.” Read the full piece here.

Tweet - @NTI_GSN: Iran-U.S. Nuclear Talks Drag Into Second Day as Clock Winds Down

Closing the gaps - “Talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are set to run into a second day Monday, as the two sides seek to close gaps on a comprehensive nuclear agreement.”

--“The U.K., German and French foreign ministers departed late Sunday afternoon saying that there had been no major breakthrough. However, following a lengthy meeting with Mr. Kerry, which ran into the evening, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told reporters the talks had ‘made some important headway.’” Laurence Norman has the story in The Wall Street Journal.

Extension possible - “The U.S. Congress will ultimately support an extension of an interim agreement of talks on Iran's nuclear program, lawmakers and congressional aides said, despite calls by Republicans and some Democrats to abandon negotiations and return to tough sanctions to deter Tehran from building a nuclear bomb.” Read the full report from Patricia Zengerle for Reuters here.

Constraints at home - Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech last week outlining the extraordinary detail about how much nuclear enrichment capacity the state will need and a recent letter from key members of the Senate to President Obama describes what a deal to prevent Iran from producing a weapon should look like are “[reminders] for Mr. Kerry that there is not one negotiation underway to strike this deal, but three,” writes David Sanger in The New York Times.

--Iranian negotiator “Zarif has a parallel negotiation underway with Ayatollah Khamenei and the generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs the military side of the nuclear program and barely trusts its foreign minister. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has been in a constant behind-the-scenes struggle with members of Congress who argue for more sanctions and more pressure,” Sanger says. According to one American official, “Everyone is using the constraints they face back home as a reason to avoid compromise. And the fact of the matter is that there are many generals in Iran and many members of Congress in Washington who would like to see this whole effort collapse.” Full article here.

Tweet - @ForeignPolicy: Why Pres. Obama needs to stand up to the warmongers who want to kill the Iranian nuke deal. @jamestraub1 writes:

Not in pursuit - “Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Sunday his country is not seeking anything in negotiations with the international community that would allow the country to pursue a nuclear weapons program,” reports Adam Sneed in Politico. “We don’t see any benefit to developing a nuclear weapon,” Zarif said in an interview. “I will commit to everything and anything that would provide credible assurances to the international community that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons.” Full piece here.

Uranium conversion - “Iran has taken preparatory action to start up a uranium conversion plant it needs to fulfil an interim nuclear agreement reached with six world powers last year before the accord expires this month,” writes Fredrik Dahl in Reuters. “Iran is supposed to convert a large amount of low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide form that would be less suitable for processing into nuclear bomb material… To be able to do that, it has been building a facility near the central city of Isfahan for turning the gas into powder.”

--Sources say Iran has taken “practical steps had been taken indicating the work could start soon, if it had not already. They include removal of IAEA seals on a uranium gas cylinder, necessary before connecting it to the conversion line.” Get the full story here.

UK’s Iran policy - “While President Barack Obama struggles to build congressional support for a potential nuclear agreement with Iran, the British House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee has endorsed a deal that would allow Iran to continue limited uranium enrichment,” reports Barbara Slavin in Al-Monitor.

--“While expressing concern about Iran’s regional role and its poor record on human rights, the report is far more nuanced and conciliatory than recent congressional letters to Obama and proposed legislation, which seek total dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear program as the price for lifting economic sanctions.”

--Key report objectives include: Promoting greater regional stability and security by reducing the ‘threat from Iran to the UK's partners in the region,’ Opening the way for ‘greater diversity in energy and hydrocarbon supplies’ for the UK and other EU members, and Protecting British commercial interests throughout the region and enabling development of commercial interests in Iran, which are ‘a fraction of what it might be.’ Full analysis here.

--Full report: “U.K. Policy Towards Iran” from the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. (pdf)

DoD on Iran’s missiles - “The U.S. Defense Department appears to have reduced the level of threat it believes Iran's ballistic-missile work directly poses to the United States,” Global Security Newswire reports. “The Pentagon's most recent annual report to Congress on Iran's military capabilities does not touch on the potential for Iran to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2015. Rather, the report's executive summary makes note of Iran's work on space rockets, which has more indirect applications for ICBM development.”

--“The department in its previous report to Congress, completed in 2013, offered a much more alarming assessment, saying that Iran as early as 2015 could be ready to test-fire a ballistic missile that could strike the United States.”

--Greg Thielmann sees important differences between the 2013 and 2014 assessments. “I would regard that as a significant change of language, meaning that the U.S. intelligence community is losing confidence in their earlier prediction of 2015 which has been very heavily quoted, of course, by friends of missile defense and others wishing to pump up the Iranian threat," he says. Full article here.

The boss - “When Deborah Lee James became top boss of the Air Force seven months ago she had no inkling a nuclear crisis was brewing,” writes Robert Burns for the AP. “But once it erupted in the form of exam-cheating by dozens of missile launch officers, she quickly announced conclusions that no Air Force leader before her had dared state publicly. The nuclear missile corps' problems run deep, she said, morale is ‘spotty’ and forceful fixes are needed.”

--“What she found was a set of interconnected problems that went deeper than the cheating. She spotted morale issues, with airmen asking, in essence, why is it that the Air Force claims the nuclear mission is its No. 1 priority and yet missile facilities are in poor shape and spare parts are in short supply? … James said she was surprised by the ICBM crisis, but not unprepared.” Full story here.

Activism - “Activists are urging Washington to study possible risks from a plan for dispersing bomb-uranium activities that previously were to be housed in a single facility,” reports Diane Barnes for Global Security Newswire. “A coalition of more than 30 watchdog groups on Thursday said the Energy Department's nuclear-weapons agency is required by law to develop a new ‘site-wide environmental impact statement’ for the proposal, devised this year by an independent ‘Red Team’ as an alternative to the Uranium Processing Facility project in Tennessee.”

--“The ‘UPF’ effort faced years of delays, as design expenses mounted and cost estimates ballooned by billions of dollars. Substantial construction at the Y-12 National Security Complex ultimately never began. ‘Failure to execute a successful design of the UPF in the first, flawed attempts has already cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars. Further mistakes in the project could cause significant safety risks and more wasted taxpayers' dollars,’ the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability argued in a letter to National Nuclear Security Administration head Frank Klotz.” Full report here.

Missile launch - “North Korea early Sunday launched two missiles into the sea from near its border with South Korea, a move seen by Seoul as an escalation of provocations after a series of similar launches further away from the border,” writes Jeyup Kwaak in The Wall Street Journal. Full piece here.

Weighing options - “The U.S. Defense Department hopes to fund a much more reliable kill vehicle, or warhead, for the homeland missile defense system run by Boeing Co., but final decisions will depend largely on cost, the Pentagon's top arms buyer said on Sunday.”

--Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall “said decisions had not been finalized on whether to upgrade the existing kill vehicles, built by Raytheon Co, or start from scratch with a new design.” Andrea Shalal has the story in Reuters.


--“Iran Sends Rouhani Brother to Nuclear Talks” in Bloomberg.

--“North Korea Testing Weapons Much More Than in Past” Hyung-Jin Kim for AP.

--“Ahead of Iran Talks ‘Super Sunday,’ Vienna Downtime” by Laurence Norman in The Wall Street Journal.

--“13 Times the U.S. almost destroyed itself with its own nuclear weapons” by Bethan Owen in Desert News.


--“New Survey of American Attitudes on Nuclear Negotiations With Iran.” Discussion with Steven Kull, Nancy Gallagher, and Suzanne Maloney. July 15 from 10:00 to 11:00 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Choate Room, 1st floor, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW. RSVP here.

--“Deal or No Deal: Negotiating to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program.” Discussion with Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione. July 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 at The Curtis Hotel, 1405 Curtis St., Denver, CO. RSVP here.

--“Russian Violations of the INF Treaty: After Detection-What?” House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing with Steven Pifer, Rademaker, and Jim Thomas. July 17 at 9:30 at 2118 Rayburn House Office Building. Webcast available on committee website.

--“Ready for an Iran Deal: No Nuke & No War.” Briefing call from the Truman National Security Project; moderated by Dave Solimini. July 17 at 12:30, call-in number and link provided in RSVP confirmation materials. RSVP here.

--“Nuclear Centers of Excellence in Asia: Next Steps.” Discussion with Kazunori Hirao, Laura Holgate, and 11 other speakers. July 18 from 9:00 to 4:00 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 212-A/B Conference Room, 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. RSVP by email to Robert Kim at

--“Iran: Diplomacy or War?” Netroots Nation discussion with Ali Gharib, Heather Hurlburt, and Sen. Chris Murphy; moderated by Matt Duss. July 18 from 11:00 to 12:15 at COBO Center, Room 141, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit, MI. RSVP here.

--“Progressive National Security in the 2014 Elections and Beyond.” Netroots Nation discussion with Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione, Mike Darner, and Megan Minnion; moderated by Emily Cadei. July 19 from 1:30 to 2:45 at COBO Center, Room 140 D, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit, MI. RSVP here.

--“Iran’s Nuclear Chess: Calculating America’s Moves.” Discussion with Robert Litwak, Mitchell Reiss, and David Sanger. July 21 from 12:00 to 1:15 at the Wilson Center, 5th floor, Reagan building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. RSVP here.

--“The Future of WMD in 2030.” Off the record discussion with John Caves and Seth Carus. July 24 12:00 to 1:30 at the National Defense University, Lincoln Hall, Room 1119, Fort McNair, Washington. RSVP by email to Nima Gerami at

--“Nuclear Politics on the Korean Peninsula.” Discussion with seven speakers. July 28 from 3:00 to 5:15 at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW. RSVP here.