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Obama: Iran Nuclear Pact Provides 'Constant International Supervision'


We're breaking into live coverage this morning, awaiting to hear from the president of the United States. He's going to be speaking at the White House about a nuclear deal that has reached between Iran and six world powers. The deal would ease economic sanctions on Iran and also give inspectors greater access to Iranian nuclear sites. Again, we are looking at images from the White House right now, awaiting the president of the United States. NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is in the studio with us. Michelle, good morning to you.


Good morning, Michele.


MONTAGNE: Why don't we start with the basic outline of this deal as you know it.

KELEMEN: Yeah, well, the general bargain is that there'll be strict limits on Iran's nuclear activities - things like caps for the next decade on Iran's enrichment capabilities to make sure that the so-called breakout time - that's the time it would take to have enough material for one nuclear bomb - would be at least a year, rather than the two to three months that experts think Iran is at now. The U.N. Security Council would move quickly to get some of the sanctions off the book. But we're told that an arms embargo is going to stay in place for the time being - you know, another eight to 10 years. That's an issue that really came up toward the end of these marathon negotiations, with Russia pushing very hard to get that embargo lifted sooner.

MONTAGNE: Now, that arms embargo - one of the arguments that Iran was making was if we are - they, of course, always say their nuclear program is only for peaceful use. They say they're not looking to use it to make bombs. But they also argued that they deserve now to have this arms embargo lifted because they - now's the time for them to be able to buy new arms.

KELEMEN: And that, of course, is a very, very tough sell for the Obama administration when it comes to U.S. allies in the region in Saudi Arabia or Israel and members of Congress because of Iran's behavior in the world - its support for terrorist groups and such.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's turn this around. And obviously, David, join us any time.

GREENE: Michele, Renee, it looks like the president of the United States is coming to speak right now. Let's give a listen.


BARACK OBAMA: American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change - change that makes our country and the world safer and more secure. This deal's also in line with a tradition of American leadership. It's now more than 50 years since President Kennedy stood before the American people and said, let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. He was speaking then about the need for discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which led to efforts to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons. In those days, the risk was a catastrophic nuclear war between two superpowers. In our time, the risk is that nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries, particularly in the Middle East, the most volatile region in our world.

Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region. Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon. This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off, and the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place.

Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for nuclear bomb. Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, the machines necessarily to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this steel, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon. This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years. Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Iraq so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor. For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy water reactors. Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments.

That means this deal is not built on trust. It is built on verification. Inspectors will have 24-7 access to Iran's key nuclear facilities. Iran will have access to Iran's entire nuclear supply chain, its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility and its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities. This ensures that Iran will not be able to divert materials from known facilities to covert ones. Some of these transparency measures will be in place for 25 years.

Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary. That arrangement is permanent. And the IAEA has also reached an agreement with Iran to get access that it needs to complete its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran's past nuclear research. Finally, Iran is permanently prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which provided the basis for international community's efforts to apply pressure on Iran.

As Iran take steps to implement this deal, it will receive relief from the sanctions that we put in place because of Iran's nuclear program - both America's own sanctions and sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased in. Iran must complete key nuclear steps before it begins to receive new sanctions relief. And over the course of the next decade, Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted, including five years for restrictions related to arms and eight years for restrictions related to ballistic missiles. All of this will be memorialized and endorsed in a new United Nations Security Council resolution. And if Iran violates the deal, all these sanctions will snap back into place, so there's a very clear incentive for Iran to follow through, and there are very real consequences for a violation.

That's the deal. It has the full backing of the international community. Congress will now have an opportunity to review the details, and my administration stands ready to provide extensive briefings on how this will move forward. As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative. Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program. Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure. And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.

We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done. Without this deal there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program. Iran could produce, operate and test more and more centrifuges. Iran could fuel a reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb, and we would not have any of the inspections that allow us to detect a covert nuclear weapons program. In other words, no deal means no lasting constraints on Iran's nuclear program. Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. It would also present the United States with fewer and less effective options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

I've been president and commander-in-chief for over six years now. Time and again, I have faced decisions about whether or not to use military force. It's the gravest decision that any president has to make. Many times, in multiple countries, I have decided to use force, and I will never hesitate to do so when it is in our national security interest. I strongly believe that our national security interest now depends upon preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which means that without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. president would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it. Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.

Moreover, we give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully. If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U,S, president in the future. And I have no doubt that 10 or 15 years from now, the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program.

For this reason, I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away from this deal, but on such a tough issue, it is important that the American people and their representatives in Congress get a full opportunity to review the deal. After all, the details matter, and we've had some of the finest nuclear scientists in the world working through those details. And we're dealing with a country - Iran - that has been a sworn adversary of the United States for over 35 years. So I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue, and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement. But I will remind Congress that you don't make deals like this with your friends. We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction, and those agreements ultimately made us safer.

I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interests of the United States and our allies, so I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal. We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. We certainly shouldn't seek it. And precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing. Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems. Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world's major powers, offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. Now that doesn't mean that this deal will resolve all of our differences with Iran. We share the concerns expressed by many of our friends in the Middle East - including Israel and the Gulf states - about Iran's support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize the region. But that is precisely why we are taking this step. Because an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilizing and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world. Meanwhile, we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran's support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program and its human rights violations. We will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel's security - efforts that go beyond what any American administration has done before. And we will continue the work we began at Camp David to elevate our partnership with the Gulf states, to strengthen their capabilities, to counter threats from Iran or terrorist groups like ISIL. However, I believe that we must continue to test whether or not this region - which has known so much suffering, so much bloodshed - can move in a different direction. Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored, but it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology of foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel - that's a dead end. A different path - one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict - leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive. This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it. We have come a long way to reach this point - decades of an Iranian nuclear program, many years of sanctions and many months of intense negotiation. Today I want to thank the members of Congress from both parties who helped us put in place the sanctions that have proven so effective, as well as the other countries who joined us in that effort. I want to thank our negotiating partners - the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, as well as the European Union - for our unity in this effort, which showed that the world can do remarkable things when we share a vision of peacefully addressing conflicts. We showed what we can do when we do not split apart. And finally, I want to thank the American negotiating team. We had a team of experts working for several weeks straight on this, including our Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz. And I want to particularly thank John Kerry, our Secretary of State, who began his service to this country more than four decades ago when he put on our uniform and went off to war. He's now making this country safer through his commitment to strong, principled American diplomacy. History shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles. It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together. Today's announcement marks one more chapter in this pursuit of a safer and more helpful, more hopeful world. Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

MONTAGNE: And we've just been listening to President Obama from the White House announcing the outlines of the deal with Iran. It was announced this morning and it was with the U.S., but not just with the U.S. It was Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China signing on. Here in the studio, with David and me, is diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen and also White House correspondent Tamara Keith and welcome to both of you. And let's begin with Tamara because you have of course been following along, with us, the president's comments. And what do you think? He's sounding pretty confident.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: He actually has to sound confident here. That's the pitch he has to make. He is - essentially what he is saying is Congress is going to have to review this and he is daring them to say no. He says it would be irresponsible to walk away from such a deal and he really - he's saying this is a deal not built on trust, but built on verification. And he is - he is going - he began just now and he is going to continue making his case to Congress who will get 60 days to review this.

MONTAGNE: Well, the deal obviously, as you've suggested - and as I think everyone knows by now - will meet opposition on Capitol Hill. What would be the things, that he mentioned just now, that would be the hardest to get past when it comes to going to Congress?

KEITH: Well, Congress gets to review the whole thing. I think that there will be concerns raised about whether the inspection regime is good enough whether the - what they're allowed to hang - what Iran is allowed to hang onto is too much, and also whether the rollback - I think the rollback of the sanctions is probably the biggest thing that will be an issue. Congress - some members of Congress will be concerned about giving Iran too much back.

GREENE: Michele, let me bring in you here. This - as Renee mentioned, I mean, there are countries like Russia and China involved in this deal - countries that do not typically work alongside the United States for, you know, to - in diplomacy and in solutions to world problems. I mean, does that make this sort of a bigger deal, that it brought together some of these world powers that just don't usually get along? But they seem to really coalesce and go after kind of a moment of opportunity here with Iran.

KELEMEN: It's been one the more stunning aspects of this - that the U.S. and the Europeans could kind of keep the unity together on this - on these talks - that all five of the permanent Security Council members, plus Germany, have been at this with Iran for quite a - quite some time. And Secretary Kerry was there for two and a half weeks with these marathon talks.

GREENE: Not a lot of sleep, it sounds like, for anyone.

KELEMEN: Not a lot of sleep and a lot of frustration from some of the diplomats. You know, there was some maneuvering at the end. You - the Russians, for instance, wanted to ease an arms embargo on the Iranians, as we heard from President Obama. Those sorts of restrictions are going to stay in place for eight to 10 years. But overall, the big part of this is that the U.N. Security Council is going to pass a new resolution that gets rid of all the previous resolutions against Iran and updates it and endorses this deal. It's a - it's sort of pro-forma at this point because all five of those permanent members were at the negotiating table and reached this agreement. But that's a big deal for Iran to get out from under this international pariah status.

GREENE: The president describes this as hard-nosed diplomacy and I think there are some important parties out there who disagree with that. There are critics within the U.S. Congress, there is Israel, who is - which is a country that has certainly made its views clear that this deal was bad from the beginning. I mean, as you look into the weeks, months, years ahead, how will we know if this was hard-nosed diplomacy or, in the eyes of critics, you know, sort of a show of weakness and kind of bowing to Iran?

KELEMEN: Well, I mean there are definitely issues that the U.S. conceded on - their questions, for instance, about the inspections regime for the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is one of the key issues, in addition to the arms embargo at the end - that was a big one. You know, how does the IAEA determine what Iran's past nuclear activities were? This is the - what the diplomats are calling the potential military dimensions of Iran's program. The IAEA's general director came out today and said that he reached an agreement on a road map for these inspections. He inspects that to be that - he expects that his team will be able to finalize a report about Iran's past activities by the end of this year. And the other thing is that the sanctions relief is really going to come as Iran implements this. So this is where you're going to see some hard bargaining still ahead, you know, how the IAEA - how much access they really get. The Iranians call it managed access. You know, is it going to be a fight over every time they want to visit a site and how are they going to be able to account for Iran's past? As you mentioned, the critics are out there. I mean, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already calling this deal a historic mistake. He says it's going to give Iran a sure path the nuclear weapons and what he called a cash bonanza that he says will be used to, you know, support terrorist groups in the Middle East. What President Obama was warning was that a nuclear armed Iran would be even more dangerous for the world.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, may I ask, Michele, since you brought up Israel, there are people - there are countries in that region that are not very happy with this. Obviously, Saudi Arabia is not very happy with any deal that would bring Iran and the United States closer together. Iran - obviously Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally. What is happening there? Have you seen any response, as of this morning, for this deal?

KELEMEN: I haven't, but the - you know, the Gulf Arab countries - Saudi Arabia in particular - have been very nervous about this deal and I think we're going to see these U.S. diplomats spreading out and trying to reassure allies. There's already been a lot of arms deals that the U.S. has announced for Saudi Arabia and others. And again, I mean, I think we're going to hear President Obama stressing over and over that the least - that this arms embargo will remain in place for, he said, eight years for conventional weapons tenures, for the ballistic missiles. So that the eyes will really be on Iran and there will be international inspectors looking at what Iran's doing and that at least, you know, that they'll be - at least, he says, it should be given a chance, and as Tam reported, that it would be irresponsible to walk away at this point.

MONTAGNE: Well, verification - and you've just been talking about it, so maybe we'll move on for a moment. But the first of all, you know, when Benjamin Netanyahu says that, you know, this is going to inevitably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, I mean, how - is verification - as the president says, it's not built on trust. Is verification something that is quite - is doable?

KELEMEN: The IAEA general director seems to think that it's doable. You know, time will tell on that. There are going to be problems looking ahead of where they get access to. There was a big dispute over whether they get access to military sites, and Iran didn't want that. But the IAEA general director, at least, seems satisfied with the deal that he's reached on this. And, you know, what we're going to likely hear a lot from the supporters of this deal and from President Obama is that this wasn't negotiated just by diplomats. The U.S. had the energy secretary, who is an expert on this material, there and negotiating this. And the IAEA also has many experts on this, and they've, you know, done it before in other countries. And that - the inspections regime will be tougher than in other countries around the world.

MONTAGNE: Tamara Keith, you're there?

KEITH: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: Let's bring you in. It's been a few moments. Let's hear a clip from President Obama first, about this deal, and then we'll talk about it.


OBAMA: As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative. Consider what happens in a world without this deal.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, you know that the opponents of this deal have considered just that. Who are they, and what can we expect to hear in the coming days?

KEITH: Well, remarkably, even before the ink was dry on this deal, the reaction was coming in from members of Congress. The very first statement to come out was from the junior senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, who said that, quote, "the administration just lit the fuse for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East." This is the type of language that we're going to be able to expect to hear. As you know, Israel is concerned about this deal, and Israel has a great many allies in the United States Congress. So my email inbox is now filling up with emails, though also from some Democrats who are saying that they support this deal.

I think that what President Obama and the White House are going to do is try to make it very, very hard for Congress to say no. They are going to do their best to build a case that saying no to this would be more dangerous than saying yes. Already, the White House is now out with some very slick-looking factsheets, graphics, infographics that they want people to share on the internet. The White House is going to be a full-court press on this to try to make the case to the Congress and the American people. And because these negotiations when on a little bit longer than planned, Congress will now have 60 days to review that. And it also includes the August recess period, which the White House says, oh, we're not worried about that. They're just going on vacation. But, in fact, recess periods can be a time when members of Congress go back, meet with the public, meet with their constituents. And during past times, those recess periods have been used to build opposition to things that the Obama administration wanted.

GREENE: Well, Tamara, let me just ask you.

KEITH: Yeah.

GREENE: You've been covering the campaign, as well. How much do we expect this to become an issue out there when members of Congress and, you know, presidential candidates are talking to people?

KEITH: You know, that is an interesting question because, I mean, we're talking about nuclear physics here.

GREENE: (Laughter).

MONTAGNE: Right (laughter).

KEITH: We're talking about minutia of inspections. And I don't know how it's going to resonate, you know, outside of the beltway and outside of - outside of, you know, the place where people are really paying attention and understanding nuclear physics - some of us, not me.


GREENE: I'm just...

MONTAGNE: Well, there's a lot of complicate - this is a very complicated deal in any - in any event and can be seen in a couple of different ways. So, yes, it's interesting to think - what's the American public going to make of it?

KEITH: And I think it really depends on the messaging, right? It depends on whether the opponents are able to make it a very simple case. About - and whether the White House is able to make it a very simple case. And so, you know, in the coming days, we're going to see how the rhetoric forms on this and whether it breaks through to folks in real America.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking with White House correspondent Tamara Keith. From the White House, NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is in the studio with me and, of course, my cohost, Renee Montagne. We're talking about big news this morning - a deal between Iran and six world powers on Iran's nuclear program. Economic sanctions will be eased on Iran, but there will be inspectors who will, under this deal, have greater access to Iran's nuclear sites. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has said the world can now breathe a sigh of relief. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says a new chapter has begun in relations with the world, but there are many countries, among them Israel, who are critical of this deal and also many members of Congress. We're going to be covering this story later on on All Things Considered and also all day online and on-air from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.