President Obama is defending the global agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program as critics of the deal are accusing the White House of appeasement. The deal reached Tuesday will see Iran reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent and cut its number of centrifuges by two-thirds. In exchange, Iran will see an easing of international sanctions that have battered the economy, causing food insecurity and medication shortages. Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement. “The deal has closed all possible pathways toward possible militarization, weaponization of Iranian nuclear program,” says Iranian Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator. “If the opponents in the region used the Iranian model for all countries in the Middle East, this would be the only way to assure a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East,” Mousavian is now an associate research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is the author of “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir” and, most recently, “Iran and the United States: An Insider’s view on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Obama appeared before reporters at the White House Wednesday to defend the global agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations were led by the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany. Critics of the deal have accused the White House of appeasement, but Obama challenged his critics to come up with a better solution, saying 99 percent of the world and the majority of nuclear experts agree that the deal will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Stay in the loop
Never miss the news and analysis you care about.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If 99 percent of the world community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say, “This will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb,” and you are arguing either that it does not or that, even if it does, it’s temporary, or that because they’re going to get a windfall of their accounts being unfrozen, that they’ll cause more problems, then you should have some alternative to present. And I haven’t heard that. And the reason is because there really are only two alternatives here: Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war. Those are – those are the options.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The agreement reached Tuesday will see Iran reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent and cut its number of centrifuges by two-thirds. In exchange, Iran will see an easing of international sanctions that have battered the economy, causing food insecurity and medication shortages. Congress will have 60 days to review the deal. President Obama has vowed to veto any attempt to block the agreement through legislation. Congress would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto, meaning Obama only needs 34 votes to keep the deal secure.
AMY GOODMAN: In Iran, residents poured out into the streets to celebrate the agreement, which many hope will help lead to a normalization of ties with the West.
To talk more about the implications of the deal, we go now to Princeton University to talk to Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian. He’s an associate research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, former diplomat who, from 1990 to 1997, served as Iran’s ambassador to Germany. From ’97 to 2005, he was head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council. And from 2003 to 2005, he served as spokesman for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union. He’s the author of The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir and, most recently, Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ambassador. Do you think this agreement is a road to peace? What do you think is most important about it?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: I’m confident this agreement is a road to peace. The big issue, as President Obama said, the agreement prevented a war, could be disaster for the US, for Iran, for the region and for international community. Second, the deal has closed all possible pathways toward possible militarization, weaponization of Iranian nuclear program. The US and the West, they were worried if Iranian nuclear program in the future would divert toward weaponization. That’s why President Obama’s red line was zero nuclear bomb, no nuclear bomb. This red line was welcomed in Tehran very much, because Iranians, they believe and they were reiterating they have never been after nuclear bomb, and they would be ready to give every assurances that the Iranian nuclear program will remain peaceful forever. After 23 months of tough negotiations, they have finalized 159 pages, which would cover the American red line, which is no nuclear bomb.
We have heavy water facility in Arak. Iran has accepted to have no reprocessing at heavy water for a long period. As long as you have no reprocessing, it’s impossible to make nuclear bomb from heavy water facility. Moreover, as a goodwill, Iran has accepted to reduce the production of plutonium from 10 kilogram per year, the current capacity, to below one kilogram, because if you are doing reprocessing, you would need 10 kilogram plutonium to produce a nuclear bomb. Then, when Iran is reducing less than one kilogram per year, this would be a double guarantee that Iran would never be after nuclear weapon from heavy water facility. Again, another confidence-building measure, Iran has agreed to spent fuel – to export spent fuel from heavy water. Even if you have 10 kilogram plutonium, even if you are reprocessing, when you export the spent fuel, it’s impossible to make nuclear bomb. Therefore, all possible measures have been agreed to secure no nuclear weapon from heavy water.
Then we go to enrichment facility. Iran has agreed to enrich below 5 percent. To make nuclear bomb from enrichment facility, you need to enrich above 90 percent. As long as you are enriching below 5 percent, it’s impossible to make nuclear bomb. Second, Iran has agreed to decrease the 10,000 kilogram of the current stockpile to 300 kilogram for just domestic needs. And Iran has agreed to convert the second enrichment site, Fordow, to R&D center, not enrichment site. And also, two-third of centrifuges would be decreased for at least a period of 10 years as a confidence-building measures. Therefore – on the transparency also, Iran has agreed to all protocols, arrangements at the maximum level within the international rules and regulations, which is safeguard agreement, which is subsidiary arrangement Code 3.1, and, finally, is additional protocol. Internationally, on transparency and inspection, we don’t have anything more; Iran has accepted all three. Therefore, Iran would be the most transparent nation on its nuclear program. And Iran has given the confidence-building measures, has accepted measures which no other member of NPT has ever accepted to yet, like enriching below 5 percent, like what already I explained for you. That’s why I believe the deal is a win deal for Washington.
Then we go to Iran. I believe the deal also is a win deal for Iran, because Iranians, they were telling Americans, “Look, if you want to close all pathway to nuclear bomb, welcome. We are with you. We have no problem to give you any assurances. But we – our red line is our legitimate rights under international rule, Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enjoy peaceful nuclear technology. We don’t want anything beyond.” And Iranians, they got it. And second red line of Iranians would – was lifting the sanctions. Also they got their second red line. Therefore, this is a win-win deal.
And I believe this could be really a model. This could be useful far, far beyond Iranian nuclear issue, because if the world powers, if the opponents in the region, they use the Iranian model for all countries in the Middle East, this would be the only way to assure nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East. If every country accept the same measures, we would never have nuclear bomb in Middle East.
And finally, I would say, definitely, the deal would decrease tension between Iran and the US, definitely. Definitely, the deal would help improving Iran-US relations. Iran and the US now succeeding one big negotiations, they would be able to have dialogue on regional issues, fighting terrorism and extremism in the region.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ambassador Mousavian, could you explain why the negotiations failed in the past over so many years? Was it the sanctions regime that enabled the agreement to come to a close now, the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: See, it was the US conventional understanding that if they put sanctions, Iranians, they would give up the nuclear program. That’s why they referred Iranian nuclear file in 2006 to United Nations Security Council, and they imposed six resolutions with draconian sanctions. And Europeans also, they went beyond United Nations Security Council sanctions: They imposed sanctions on central bank and oil, unilateral sanctions, multilateral sanctions, UN sanctions, since 2006. Then, they all believed Iran would give up.
But sanctions pushed Iran to increase its nuclear capacity. Before sanctions, Iranians, they had a few hundred centrifuges; after sanctions, 22,000 centrifuges. Before sanctions, Iranians, they were enriching below 5 percent; after sanctions, they were enriching to 20 percent. Before sanctions, Iranians, they were working with one model of centrifuges; after sanctions, eight models of centrifuges, extremely developed centrifuges, during the sanction period.
And then, suddenly, the US opened its eyes and saw Iran has just three months to break out. And definitely, they would resist sanctions for more three months, even more three years, but they would pass the breakout. And then the US would have to negotiate with Iran after breakout, which would have to give a lot of concessions. Here, the US and the world powers, they understood the sanctions have been completely counterproductive. The sanctions pushed Iran toward expanding enormously its nuclear program. That’s why they came to negotiate. This was number one.
Number two, if you look at the principles agreed July 14th, 2015, you would see this is exactly the same principles we proposed EU3, which that time they were our interlocutors, in March 2005, during President Khatami, when I was a spokesperson of nuclear file of Iran. The same principles before sanctions, we gave to Europeans. But Europeans, they could not make a deal with us, because the US position was zero enrichment. Iranians, they were saying, Iran cannot have enrichment. Iran should be the only member of NPT, Non-Proliferation Treaty, to be singled out, to be discriminized, not to have this right. And Iranians definitely were not ready to accept. This was practically the two reasons we could not make the deal. And exactly these are the two reasons we could make the deal just some days ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador, South Carolina senator, the Republican presidential candidate, Lindsey Graham, to say the least, has criticized the Iran nuclear deal, saying it’s tantamount to funding the Assad regime, Hamas and Hezbollah. Graham was speaking on the Today show on NBC.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, when the Iranians tell you this is a win-win, it’s probably not. My biggest problem is it would take in the largest state sponsor of terrorism, the people who overran our embassy, who killed hundreds of Americans. We’ve given them billions of dollars, and they can use the money any way they would like. You might as well write a check to Assad, Hezbollah, Hamas, because that’s where the money’s going. We’re going to give them more weapons at the passage of five years, regardless if they change their behavior. We took a very dismantled approach to their nuclear program and ensured they’re on the path to become a member of the nuclear club. And Arabs are going to go get their own weapon. You’re creating a nuclear arms race. You’re infusing the largest state sponsor of terrorism with more money and more weapons. Not a good deal.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ambassador, if you could respond to this? This is tantamount to funding the Assad regime, Hamas and Hezbollah. This matters because right now this global agreement, the agreement with all of the countries, not just the United States, goes to Congress and has to be approved. President Obama has vowed to veto, if they don’t.
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: The argument of Senator Graham and other senators opposing the deal and Prime Minister Netanyahu and some Arab allies of the US is that the deal would strengthen, empower Iranians to increase their regional hegemony and aggression and invasion. This is the argument they make.
Let’s to be realistic and sincere to the public opinion. In last five decades, Israel has invaded six times its neighbors. Saudi Arabia, in last five, six years, has invaded militarily two countries: Bahrain and Yemen. United States of America, in last 15 years, has invaded twice: One has attacked Afghanistan, and one has attacked – once has attacked Iraq. And NATO, which the US also participated, Arab allies participated, they attacked Libya. All these military invasions have created the region today we see. They have made the region completely unstable. Some countries, they have collapsed. Some countries are at the verge of collapse. Terrorists have been spread all over the region.
Iranians, during the last 200 years, have never invaded any country. And Iranians, they are the only country in the region which they were attacked, invaded by Arabs. Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, for eight years killing, injuring over a million Iranians. Iranians are the only country after Second World War have been bombarded by chemical weapons. Saddam used chemical weapons. The United States of America, unfortunately, the Europeans, they provided material and technology for Saddam Hussein to use weapons of mass destruction against Iranians, chemical weapons, killing and injuring 100,000 Iranians.
Now Iran is blamed. Who did all these aggressions? Who made the region a mess? It was not really Iran. Iran is helping Iraq to fight ISIS. It is true. Iran has been invited by Iraqi government to help, because no other country is ready to help by military in ground. Iran is helping, is the biggest country, the most important country, helping Iraq to fight ISIS in Iraq and in Syria. Who are funding this ISIS, these terrorists? They are US allies in the region. Vice President Joe Biden said last year, very clearly, in Harvard, that our main problem in the region are our own allies. They are funding terrorists. They are giving weapon to terrorists. It was stated officially by the vice president of the US Therefore, why Iran should be blamed because of hegemony, because of invasion of other countries? We can see the record of the US, Arab allies in the region, Israelis, invading frequently, creating wars. And Iranians, in the last two centuries, have never invaded any country. Therefore, I really believe that totally the argument is baseless and is misleading the public opinion. American public opinion, they know very well American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan cost them trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and caused such a mess in the region.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ambassador Mousavian –
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Iran should not be blamed for such a situation.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ambassador Mousavian, I think one of the criticisms that has been leveled against Iran has to do with the extent of its support for the Assad regime. Even the UN envoy to Syria last year said that Iran provides up to $6 billion a year to Syria. So could you respond to that?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Look, the stability and integrity of Syria is threatened by ISIS. They are now taking over about half of Syria. And if Assad collapse, the alternative is ISIS. Joe Biden was right that the US allies made a big mistake to support the terrorists to fight Assad, because they have created such a situation in Syria. We should think: Assad is better, or ISIS?
AMY GOODMAN: Let me –
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Iranians, they believe Assad is better than ISIS. Iranians, they believe they should support Assad to fight ISIS. This is exactly what they are doing in Iraq. They are helping Iraqi government to fight ISIS. I believe the US, international community, they should join Iran to help Assad to fight ISIS, to clean Syria from terrorists, then find a peaceful transitional solution for resolving the Syrian crisis –
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Mousavian, we only have –
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: – to have a free election.
AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but I wanted to ask you one question that seems to be a major misunderstanding in the United States, and it’s about the money that Iran gets with the lifting of the sanctions. It’s often referred to as: “Why should we give them this money?” Explain what the money is.
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: The money definitely would go for Iranian economy. Iran desperately needs the money for developing its economy.
AMY GOODMAN: But where is the money coming from?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: The money is, first, from the blocked Iranian assets. These are Iranian assets.
AMY GOODMAN: So this is the sale, for example, of Iranian oil.
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Iranian oil would – after six months, they would be able to increase. Definitely, the deal would help Iranian economy. No doubt. But believe me, Iranians, they would use every dollar – this government, which I know them, they would use every dollar to develop their economy, because after 35 years –
AMY GOODMAN: So this isn’t aid from other countries to Iran, is my point. This is Iran’s money.
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: This is Iranian money, definitely. This is their own money, which would be released. However, when they lift the sanctions, of course, Iranian economy would function much better.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, we thank you so much for being with us. Of course, we’re going to continue to follow this as the controversy builds in Congress right now. Ambassador Mousavian is now an associate research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, former diplomat who served as Iran’s ambassador to Germany and was head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council, serving as spokesman for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union. His book, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis, as well as Iran and the United States.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to south to Texas. Stay with us.