Transcript: First Step Agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program

President Obama’s remarks on the Iran deal.

National Journal Staff
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National Journal Staff
Nov. 23, 2013, 6:09 p.m.

Good even­ing. Today, the United States — to­geth­er with our close al­lies and part­ners — took an im­port­ant first step to­ward a com­pre­hens­ive solu­tion that ad­dresses our con­cerns with the Is­lam­ic Re­pub­lic of Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram.

Since I took of­fice, I’ve made clear my de­term­in­a­tion to pre­vent Ir­an from ob­tain­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon. 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.

These sanc­tions have had a sub­stan­tial im­pact on the Ir­a­ni­an eco­nomy, and with the elec­tion of a new Ir­a­ni­an Pres­id­ent earli­er this year, an open­ing for dip­lomacy emerged. I spoke per­son­ally with Pres­id­ent Rouh­ani of Ir­an earli­er this fall. Sec­ret­ary Kerry has met mul­tiple times with Ir­an’s For­eign Min­is­ter. And we have pur­sued in­tens­ive dip­lomacy — bi­lat­er­ally with the Ir­a­ni­ans, and to­geth­er with our P5-plus-1 part­ners — the United King­dom, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia, and China, as well as the European Uni­on.

Today, that dip­lomacy opened up a new path to­ward a world that is more se­cure — a fu­ture in which we can veri­fy that Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram is peace­ful and that it can­not build a nuc­le­ar weapon.

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.

These are sub­stan­tial lim­it­a­tions which will help pre­vent Ir­an from build­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon. Simply put, they cut off Ir­an’s most likely paths to a bomb. Mean­while, this first step will cre­ate time and space over the next six months for more ne­go­ti­ations to fully ad­dress our com­pre­hens­ive con­cerns about the Ir­a­ni­an pro­gram. And be­cause of this agree­ment, Ir­an can­not use ne­go­ti­ations as cov­er to ad­vance its pro­gram.

On our side, the United States and our friends and al­lies have agreed to provide Ir­an with mod­est re­lief, while con­tinu­ing to ap­ply our toughest sanc­tions. We will re­frain from im­pos­ing new sanc­tions, and we will al­low the Ir­a­ni­an gov­ern­ment ac­cess to a por­tion of the rev­en­ue that they have been denied through sanc­tions. But the broad­er ar­chi­tec­ture of sanc­tions will re­main in place and we will con­tin­ue to en­force them vig­or­ously. And if Ir­an does not fully meet its com­mit­ments dur­ing this six-month phase, we will turn off the re­lief and ratchet up the pres­sure.

Over the next six months, we will work to ne­go­ti­ate a com­pre­hens­ive solu­tion. We ap­proach these ne­go­ti­ations with a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing: Ir­an, like any na­tion, should be able to ac­cess peace­ful nuc­le­ar en­ergy. But be­cause of its re­cord of vi­ol­at­ing its ob­lig­a­tions, Ir­an must ac­cept strict lim­it­a­tions on its nuc­le­ar pro­gram that make it im­possible to de­vel­op a nuc­le­ar weapon.

In these ne­go­ti­ations, noth­ing will be agreed to un­less everything is agreed to. The bur­den is on Ir­an to prove to the world that its nuc­le­ar pro­gram will be ex­clus­ively for peace­ful pur­poses.

If Ir­an seizes this op­por­tun­ity, the Ir­a­ni­an people will be­ne­fit from re­join­ing the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity, and we can be­gin to chip away at the mis­trust between our two na­tions. This would provide Ir­an with a dig­ni­fied path to forge a new be­gin­ning with the wider world based on mu­tu­al re­spect. If, on the oth­er hand, Ir­an re­fuses, it will face grow­ing pres­sure and isol­a­tion.

Over the last few years, Con­gress has been a key part­ner in im­pos­ing sanc­tions on the Ir­a­ni­an gov­ern­ment, and that bi­par­tis­an ef­fort made pos­sible the pro­gress that was achieved today. Go­ing for­ward, we will con­tin­ue to work closely with Con­gress. However, now is not the time to move for­ward on new sanc­tions -— be­cause do­ing so would de­rail this prom­ising first step, ali­en­ate us from our al­lies and risk un­rav­el­ing the co­ali­tion that en­abled our sanc­tions to be en­forced in the first place.

That in­ter­na­tion­al unity is on dis­play today. The world is united in sup­port of our de­term­in­a­tion to pre­vent Ir­an from de­vel­op­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon. Ir­an must know that se­cur­ity and prosper­ity will nev­er come through the pur­suit of nuc­le­ar weapons — it must be reached through fully veri­fi­able agree­ments that make Ir­an’s pur­suit of nuc­le­ar weapons im­possible.

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.

Ul­ti­mately, only dip­lomacy can bring about a dur­able solu­tion to the chal­lenge posed by Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram. As Pres­id­ent and Com­mand­er-in-Chief, I will do what is ne­ces­sary to pre­vent Ir­an from ob­tain­ing a nuc­le­ar weapon. But I have a pro­found re­spons­ib­il­ity to try to re­solve our dif­fer­ences peace­fully, rather than rush to­wards con­flict. Today, we have a real op­por­tun­ity to achieve a com­pre­hens­ive, peace­ful set­tle­ment, and I be­lieve we must test it.

The first step that we’ve taken today marks the most sig­ni­fic­ant and tan­gible pro­gress that we’ve made with Ir­an since I took of­fice. And now we must use the months ahead to pur­sue a last­ing and com­pre­hens­ive set­tle­ment that would re­solve an is­sue that has threatened our se­cur­ity — and the se­cur­ity of our al­lies — for dec­ades. It won’t be easy, and huge chal­lenges re­main ahead. But through strong and prin­cipled dip­lomacy, the United States of Amer­ica will do our part on be­half of a world of great­er peace, se­cur­ity, and co­oper­a­tion among na­tions.

Thank you very much.

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