Can Iran nuclear framework agreement win over skeptics in Washington and Tehran?

The nuclear program framework agreed to by Iran and six world powers would limit that country’s uranium enrichment and its number of centrifuges. After verification, the European Union, the U.N. and the U.S. would lift sanctions. Judy Woodruff talks to Karim Sadjadpour and George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Robin Wright of The New Yorker and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif.

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    We dig in now to today's deal with Iran and its broader implications with Republican Representative Ed Royce of California. He's chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

    George Perkovich, he has written widely on nuclear proliferation, and he served as an adviser to then Senator Joe Biden. He's now vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Robin Wright is an analyst and fellow at both the U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center. She also writes for "The New Yorker." And Karim Sadjadpour, he's senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, where he focuses on Iran.

    And we welcome all of you to the program.

    George Perkovich, I'm going to — let me just go around the group and ask each one of you, starting with you, George Perkovich, what is your main reaction to this framework agreement, as you see it?

    GEORGE PERKOVICH, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: I think it is a very positive step forward. It's not the introduction to the story. It's not the conclusion to the story, but it's a very solid middle the story that now we have to watch unfold over the next couple of months.


    Chairman Royce, your reaction?

    REP. ED ROYCE, (R) California: Well, we had a lot of leverage in this agreement, or should have. We had not only the sanctions we had imposed, but Congress had a bill up, my legislation, that would have put additional sanctions and additional pressure on Iran and the falling price of oil.

    So, the question is this. When we read the details, will we find out whether or not the inspectors will be able to go anywhere, any time in order to inspect? And will it curtail the research and development of the new centrifuges 16 times more powerful that recently Iran announced it had the capability to run?


    Well, we will get into that in just a minute.

    Robin Wright, your reaction.

  • ROBIN WRIGHT, The New Yorker:

    I think it begins to change the dynamics of a tense relationship of 36 years between Washington and Tehran.

    I think the deal provides more than the United States anticipated. And I think it could help prevent an arms race in the region that would be detrimental to not just the Middle East, but to the whole world.


    And Karim Sadjadpour?

    KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: I agree with Robin and George.

    The metaphor I think about, Judy, is a wedding engagement. The marriage is scheduled to take place in July. There is going to be vigorous debates about the size of the dowry and the prenuptial agreement. And if indeed the wedding happens on time, which is — past as precedent, it will likely be delayed — the marriage is going to have profound mistrust between the two sides and many saboteurs, but there is no great alternative.


    Well, let's go — let's try to hit some of these points that all of you have raised.

    George Perkovich, what are the main elements of this framework, as you see it, that you think will prevent Iran from breaking out with a nuclear weapon


    Well, there are several.

    The key that people have focused on is in the enrichment area. And there, there are limits, very importantly. So, for 15 years, Iran won't be able to have more than 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium. That, paired with limits on the number of centrifuges, means that they won't be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb within a year's time for those first 10 and then 15 years of the agreement. So that's a big one.

    The second thing goes to inspections. And it's very important. In an unprecedented way, they have agreed to monitor the supply chain for all of Iran's nuclear program and that everything Iran procures would have to go through a declared channel. Well, that would mean there is no secret procurement that would be allowed in Iran.

    So, if intelligence agencies detected them trying to buy things secretly or procuring them secretly, that would be a violation of the agreement, which makes intelligence much easier to manage here.


    Chairman Royce, what about that? You raised inspections, and you also raised their capacity to enrich.


    Right, because the question is, will the military facilities be inspected? Fordow, for example, was supposed to be closed.

    Now it's our understanding that that particular research facility will remain open. Prior to these latest rounds of negotiation, the word was, don't worry too much about it; they won't have the uranium in their hands; it will be sent offshore; it will be sent to Russia to be reprocessed there.

    Now we find out that the ayatollah, obviously, has stepped in on the negotiation and said, no, no, we don't — we're not going to lose control of that uranium.

    Now, it might be treated, but, nevertheless, the stockpile will remain in the hands of the Iranian regime, unless — unless, somehow, we reverse and win on this point. So what I see is a steady erosion, starting with the loss of this argument over enrichment, where originally we weren't going to give up on the right of Iran to enrich. Now we suddenly find out that, during the negotiations, they have been developing a new centrifuge 16 times faster, the supersonic centrifuge that will obviously put them closer to undetectable nuclear breakout capability.

    So the last argument is, how do we make absolutely certain that the 12 questions asked by the IAEA are answered about the thousand pages of documents about them developing a nuclear weapon that exist there need to be answered, so that we know where they are on that program, and how do we get access to those military sites?


    How do you answer some of the points he's raising, George Perkovich?


    Well, the issue about sending fuel out of the country wasn't necessarily about sending fuel out of the country. The issue was keeping them below 300 kilograms. That's been agreed.

    So, whether there's only 300 kilograms in Iran, if that's one way to do it, or they had had more, they were supposed to send it out. Now they have agreed to only have 300 kilograms. That was the objective in the first place.

    The Fordow facility the congressman mentioned, that will be inspected. It is inspected now and it will be inspected going forward. The issue about a super centrifuge, the agreement talks about monitoring and only doing research and development as agreed. So it's been addressed. They will do some R&D. That has to be negotiated, but it would be under agreed terms going forward and there will be a limit in terms of time when they could do that.

    The last issue he mentioned, the possible military dimensions, this is about the past activities of Iran.




    And that does have to be addressed. And this preliminary statement doesn't say exactly how that will be done. It says that it should be done.

    And the whole point is, this is now a gateway into another couple of months of negotiating, where that obviously would have to be addressed.


    And I want to bring in Chairman Royce in just a minute.

    But I want to bring in Karim Sadjadpour and Robin Wright right now.

    Karim, this is what the Americans are hearing about this deal. Are Iranians going to be hearing the same thing? And what is the reaction going to be there?


    The reaction is just trickling out now, Judy, and so far some of the hard-line forces have come out very critical of the deal.

    Tomorrow is Friday in Tehran. It's a big day. It's Friday prayers. And I think you will see more of the official reaction then. But I think the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has a dilemma at the moment, because either he can — he has 75 million euphoric Iranians. He doesn't want to demoralize them by coming out against this.


    Euphoric because the sanctions — the prospect that maybe the sanctions are going away?


    Sanctions are being removed, and the dream they have of being reintegrated with the outside world.

    But then has his longstanding hard-line political base. And if he endorses this agreement, he is going to alienate them. So this is really a dilemma for him.


    How do you see the — not only the reaction in Iran, Robin, but the reaction in the region? The president's already been on the phone today with the king of Saudi Arabia trying to reassure him.


    Well, it's very clear that the region is going to be very nervous about a nuclear deal, not just because it again opens a xenophobic regime that's been isolated, and given the Gulf states particularly, a political, a military, an economic edge with the outside world.

    This changes the balance of power. Until 1979, Israel and Iran were the two pillars of U.S. policy. And with a deal, Iran reintegrates, effectively, in the international community. It's again a player. It's the most populous country. It has the largest economy. It can — it is a huge attraction for whether it's Western business, Western tourists, just some kind of engagement.

    And the Gulf states are very nervous that their — the role that they have played, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well, since 1979 will be replaced by Iran, which, of course, has interests across the region and is a player in a lot of different countries that we also have concerns about.


    Congressman Royce, how much does it matter to you and others in the Republican majority in the Congress what the reaction is of the Israelis? We know Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very critical, of Israel.

    We know — and we just heard Robin describing what the concerns are of others. Is that going to be a factor as Congress looks at the elements of this framework?


    Well, I think when the ayatollah is calling for death to the little Satan, death to Israel, he's also calling for death to America, death to the great Satan.

    So it's not just through the lens of what he's saying about Israel. Eight, nine days ago, in a rally, as people were chanting "Death to America," he chimed, in with, "Yes, yes, death to America."

    And the head of the Basiji said recently the destruction of Israel is not open to negotiation in this agreement, so — or the destruction of Israel. Israel has been called a one-bomb country by Iran.

    So, given these attitudes, I want to make the point that it's not just Israel that's concerned. Recently, one of the Iranian ministers said that they now control four Arab capitals after taking Yemen, and they mean they control Damascus and Beirut and have this influence now in Baghdad.

    So the aggressiveness of the ayatollah is the problem. And the other problem is, regardless of what the negotiator agrees to at the table, it's the ayatollah that makes the final decisions in that system. And that's where I want us to be clear-eyed about Iran's past negotiations and the way we have been played. We don't want this to end up like North Korea, where we think we have an agreement, like we did in the '94 framework agreement, and then find out that somebody cheated, crept out from underneath the agreement and suddenly has both the ICBMs and the undetectable nuclear breakout capability to deliver them.


    Karim Sadjadpour, how concerned should Americans be? How should we understand, I should say, the role of the ayatollah, the supreme leader?

    And should Americans, should congressional leaders be concerned about some of this anti-American, anti-Israel language coming from Iranian leaders?


    Well, the debate within Iran, I would argue, are between those who want Iran to remain a revolution, a revolutionary cause, and those who want Iran to become a nation, to prioritize economic and national interests before revolutionary ideology.

    And what we're trying to do in U.S. policy toward Iran is to empower and incentivize those Iranians who want the country to be reintegrated and weaken those who want it to be a cause. So, certainly, I think the world view of the supreme leader is not going to change. But Iran's hard-liners are isolationists by nature. By isolating them, it is more of a carrot than a stick.


    Robin Wright?


    But the revolutionists are also aging now.

    And when we talk about a deal that is 10, 15 years, Ayatollah Khamenei is in his late 70s. We're likely to see a political transition across Iran in a lot of different ways. The majority of the population is under the age of 35. They are very connected with the outside world. And they're the ones who will most applaud a deal. They're well — they're looking for something different, even if they honor the system, the political system they have in place now.


    Well, we are just beginning to dissect all of this.

    And we thank all four of you for joining us tonight, on the day this framework was announced.

    George Perkovich, Chairman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Karim Sadjadpour, and Robin Wright, we thank you all.