World leaders reacted with a variety of talking points this week on the nuclear allies’ deal with Iran, with perhaps the most scattered of opinions emerging from the United States.
The US took the lead in P5+1 talks with the Islamic republic, which resulted in a sanctions ease agreement early Sunday in exchange for a scaled back Iranian nuclear program. In a lengthy statement, President Barack Obama called the deal an “important first step.”
As I’ve said many times, my strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully, and we’ve extended the hand of diplomacy. Yet for many years, Iran has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the international community. So my administration worked with Congress, the United Nations Security Council and countries around the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government.
While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.
As we go forward, the resolve of the United States will remain firm, as will our commitments to our friends and allies –- particularly Israel and our Gulf partners, who have good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions.
Read the president’s full statement here.
Secretary of State John Kerry did his best to promote the deal as a positive move, while addressing Israeli concerns that the Islamic republic is now positioned to become even more dangerous to the security of the Jewish state.
Kerry said at a briefing in Geneva:
Let me be crystal clear to Israel, to our other friends in the region, to any neighbor who feels threatened, that the next step requires proof certain of a failsafe set of steps which eliminate the current prospect of a breakout and the creation of a nuclear weapon. That will require dismantling certain things. It will require stopping certain kinds of activities. It will require some fundamental choices, and we’re prepared to work with Iran in order to put in place a protocol that achieves those ends.
He added in an interview with ABC News:
We will stand by Israel 100 percent…We will show that this particular approach has the ability to be able to garner greater, broader international support for whether or not Iran is, in fact, following through on its commitments or not…If you, ultimately, have to hold them accountable because they’re not doing it, you have to be able to show that you’ve gone through all of the diplomatic avenues available before considering other alternatives.
Meanwhile, Senate leaders took opposing corners on the issue, with a group of 14 senators issuing a statement censuring the agreement.
A nuclear weapons-capable Iran presents a grave threat to the national security of the United States and its allies and we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring this capability. We will work together to reconcile Democratic and Republican proposals over the coming weeks and to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation as soon as possible.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez, who signed onto the statement, said separately, “The interim agreement reached is but a beginning and a product of that policy…In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program for the relief it is receiving. Given Iran’s history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on the ground verification.”
And Senator Charles Schumer added:
Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities while we reduce the sanctions. It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced. A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.
But it wasn’t all dissidence in the Capitol Building. Senator Diane Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, hailed the agreement as “a significant step toward solving one of the most difficult security challenges facing the world today…By any standard, this agreement is a giant step forward and should not be undermined by additional sanctions at this time.”
And US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 Sunday, “We are going to heavily verify and inspect and monitor these undertakings to make sure Iran keeps its commitments…If it doesn’t keep its commitments, all the sanctions will be returned… Additional sanctions and other options, including the military option, are a possibility.”
The outlook was decidedly more cheerful outside the US. British Prime Minister David Cameron called the relief an “important first step,” saying Iran is now “further away from getting a nuclear weapon.”
Likewise, French President Francois Hollande said the agreement was “an important step in the right direction,” adding in a statement, “France will continue to take action to reach a final agreement on this issue.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to last week, said a “breakthrough step has been made, but only the first on a long and difficult path.” Russia has a strong relationship with Iran, and a Kremlin statement from Putin added:
“As the result of talks…we managed to get closer to untying one of the most difficult knots in world politics… …The principles of step-by-step and mutual action, which Russia proposed earlier, are fully reflected in the document agreed, and they have been supported and recognized internationally.”
And throughout Iran itself, the news was heralded by leaders as a success for the Islamic government. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme authority in Iran, congratulated Hassan Rouhani in a letter, writing that the newly elected Iranian president was “to be praised and thanked.”
And Rouhani himself said the move marked “a starting point for a new chapter for the Iranian nation.”
“The world came to realize that respecting the Iranian nation will bring about positive results and that threats won’t bear fruit,” Rouhani added, saying Iran “has never and will never seek weapons.”
Jewish groups speak out
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tone coming from world Jewish leaders took a different tone, with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder condemning the Iranian government as “deceptive.”
“Iran must be judged by its actions, not its words and promises, because they are not worth the paper they are written on,” Lauder said. “Nothing in the deceptive behavior of Iran and its leaders in recent years should make the world believe that they will honor this agreement.”
Simon Wiesenthal Center heads Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper added in a joint statement:
The sanctions had the Ayatollahs on the ropes and the US and West let them win the round and perhaps the match…Iran has taken a page from their North Korean friends whose negotiations with the United States did nothing to stop Pyongyang from breaking out as a nuclear power when it suited them. Tehran has not been forced to destroy a single centrifuge.
And from American Jewish Committee chief David Harris:
Ultimately, the true test of this agreement will be the ability of the world powers and UN agencies to verify Iranian compliance, including openness to, and full cooperation with, regular, intrusive inspections of all of its nuclear facilities…Meanwhile, we believe that existing sanctions should remain in place and new sanctions, whose trigger date would not necessarily be immediate, should be pursued to underscore the seriousness of America’s determination — and the consequences of an Iranian failure to act in good faith.
The Anti-Defamation League took what it called a “skeptical” stance, with Barry Curtiss-Lusher, ADL national chairman, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, saying in a joint statement:
The efforts of the US and the P5 plus 1 to bring Iran to the table for substantive negotiations to accept some limits on their nuclear activity are an important step forward. But Iran’s record of noncompliance makes us skeptical of providing sanctions relief before Iran has taken tangible steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Instead, this interim agreement allows them to continue enrichment and maintain a breakout capability. Iran has not earned these concessions and has, in the past, used respites from international pressure to surreptitiously make progress in its nuclear program.
Watch President Obama’s full address below.