As President Obama and our entire administration has made clear, we are committed to testing whether we can address one of the world’s most pressing priorities – ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon – through the diplomatic negotiations in which we and our international partners are currently engaged.
This effort remains as intense as it is important, and we have come a long way in a short period of time. Less than a year ago, President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani spoke for the first time to try to usher in a new diplomatic moment, and I held the first bilateral meeting between a Secretary of State and an Iranian Foreign Minister in more than three decades.
Since that time, we’ve been intensely engaged in a constant and comprehensive effort – the best chance we’ve ever had to resolve this issue peacefully. This effort has been made possible by the Joint Plan of Action, which stopped the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of it back – for the first time in a decade.
The JPOA was a six-month understanding that went into effect on January 20, and it has been a clear success. Since its implementation, Iran has complied with its obligations to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium; cap its stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium; not install advanced centrifuges; not install or test new components at its Arak reactor; and submit to far more frequent inspections of its facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency has regularly verified that Iran has lived up to these commitments. Meanwhile, we and our P5+1 and EU partners have provided limited sanctions relief, as agreed to in the Joint Plan of Action, while vigorously enforcing the broader sanctions regime that remains in place.
As I said on Monday in Vienna, it is clear to me that we have made tangible progress in our comprehensive negotiations, but there are very real gaps in some areas. Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues, but there are still a number of brackets and blank spaces in that text.
In terms of progress, we have been working together to find a long-term solution that would effectively close off the plutonium path to a bomb through the reactor at Arak. We have been working on a different purpose for Fordow that would ensure it cannot be used to build a nuclear weapon. We have been working to guarantee Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium can’t be turned into higher enriched uranium suitable for a bomb. And we have agreed that any long-term, comprehensive solution will involve enhanced monitoring and verification measures that go well beyond the status quo – measures that are absolutely critical in creating the confidence we need that Iran will not be able to build a weapon in secret. There are other areas where we’ve made progress; these are just some of the most important. Of course, on all these issues there is still work to do and differences to resolve, but we have made real progress.
Still, there are very real gaps on issues such as enrichment capacity at the Natanz enrichment facility. This issue is an absolutely critical component of any potential comprehensive agreement. We have much more work to do in this area, and in others as well.
Diplomacy takes time, and persistence is needed to determine whether we can achieve our objectives peacefully. To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully, and to maintain the international unity that we have built. While we’ve made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time.
As a result, we have decided – along with the EU, our P5+1 partners, and Iran – to extend the Joint Plan of Action until November 24, exactly one year since we finalized the first step agreement in Geneva. This will give us a short amount of additional time to continue working to conclude a comprehensive agreement, which we believe is warranted by the progress we’ve made and the path forward we can envision.
Under this short extension, all parties have committed to upholding their obligations in the Joint Plan of Action. For the next four months, we will continue to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program in key areas. In addition, Iran has committed to take further nuclear-related steps in the next four months that are consistent with the types of steps that they committed to in the JPOA. These include a continued cap on the amount of 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and a commitment to convert any material over that amount into oxide.
In the JPOA, Iran diluted half of its 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and converted the rest to oxide. In this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. Once the 20 percent material is in fuel form, it will be very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario. Attempting to do so would be readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon.
In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment. Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible. And, just as we have over the last six months, we will continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place.
Ultimately, our goal in pursuing this brief extension is to capitalize on the progress we’ve already made, while giving us the best chance of success at the end of this process. Critically, Iran’s nuclear program will remain halted during the next four months. This is in our interest, and in the interest of our allies. And as we pursue this path, we will continue to consult with those allies and with the Congress about this critical issue.
We do so mindful not just of where we hope to arrive, but of how far we have come. One year ago, few would have predicted that Iran would have kept all its commitments under a first step nuclear agreement, and that we would be actively negotiating a long-term comprehensive agreement. Now we have four additional months to determine the next miles of this difficult diplomatic journey. Let’s all commit to seize this moment, and to use the additional time to make the fundamental choices necessary to conclude a comprehensive agreement that makes the entire world a safer place.