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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Ambassador Stephen D. Mull, Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation
Washington, DC
January 21, 2016

2:30 P.M. EST


MS BLUM: All right. Well, good afternoon and welcome back to the Foreign Press Center. I am very pleased that we are able to do a briefing – thank you – a special briefing for you this week on the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. So now, Ambassador Stephen Mull is lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation at the State Department, and he is here to join us to discuss the latest developments in the implementation of the plan of action. After brief comments, as usual, we’ll open it for questions, and we just ask that when you are ready for questions, please state your name and outlet for us.

With that, I’ll turn it over to you, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR MULL: Great. Thanks very much, Orna, and thanks for all of you for coming out today. I’ve been working as the lead coordinator for the Iran – implementation of the Iran nuclear deal since September, and in that process I’ve been working at coordinating all of the activities of the U.S. Government, both in the State Department but also in other agencies as well, to make sure that the deal is fully implemented according to the very complicated terms that we negotiated.

We reached a really important milestone in the deal last Saturday in Vienna, almost exactly six months after the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action was agreed back in July last year, and so-called implementation day. And implementation day is the day by which Iran has kept all of its commitments. It had a number of commitments that it had to carry out before reaching implementation day, but basically introduced new limits and controls on its nuclear program. So the whole first part of the deal was getting to that day. And then implementation day is an important milestone because once the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – certified that Iran had met all of these steps, then part two of the agreement comes in, which is that the United States and the European Union as well as the United Nations Security Council agree to lift a number of sanctions that had been on Iran because of concerns about its nuclear program over the year.

So all of this happened all at once on Saturday. We had the IAEA announce that it had found Iran in full compliance, and then instantly we had to go through and have the President and Secretary of State sign the lifting of sanctions and certain provisions of a new UN Security Council Resolution, 2231, went into effect, and the European Union did the same thing. So it was a very – it was a pretty momentous day in terms of the agreement. I think all of us were really pleased with how it went.

The motive for the U.S. going into this whole process, and the negotiations were going on for more than two years before we actually had the agreement last July. But our motive was to work with Iran so that concerns that the international community had had about its nuclear program going back 10 years and more – that all of those concerns were addressed. Principally, the concerns were that because of past concealed activities with the program, that there was a concern that Iran might have a military objective. Iran all along assured that it did not have, but there was a lot of disagreement, and of course, the international community, through a number of Security Council resolutions, IAEA resolutions, had set in place these sanctions.

So the main elements that – of the deal that Iran complied with as of last Saturday were pretty significant. I mean, there were dozens of steps that Iran took. I’ll summarize the most important of them. First of all, although all of the parties to the agreement – one of the main elements of the agreement was an agreement that Iran could have a nuclear enrichment program subject to verification and monitoring by the IAEA. And so in exchange for that agreement from the United States and the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany and the European Union, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment activities. Before, prior to implementation day, they had about 19,000 centrifuges that were enriching uranium. As of implementation day, that number had dropped to 5,060 centrifuges, so more than a two-thirds reduction in operating centrifuges.

It reduced the amount of nuclear – of enriched nuclear material that it had on hand from about 12,000 kilograms of enriched nuclear material down to 300. And they agreed that for the life of the agreement, through year 15, they will keep a stockpile of enriched nuclear material below 300 kilograms the entire time. And that material that they have cannot be enriched to a greater level than 3.67 percent. So that was a 98 percent reduction in the holdings of Iran’s enriched nuclear material.

Additionally, Iran was building a heavy-water reactor that was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, another potential pathway towards developing a nuclear weapon. And Iran agreed that it would remove the core of that reactor – it’s the Arak reactor, A-r-a-k – and fill it with concrete so that it could not be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and instead, will be working with a subgroup of the P5+1 – the Permanent Five members of the Security Council plus Germany, who negotiated the deal – to modernize the reactor in a way that will almost eliminate the ability to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

In addition, Iran agreed to invite really an unprecedented number of inspectors and monitoring mechanisms on its territory, so – from the IAEA so that the IAEA could monitor that Iran’s program is fully peaceful going forward. And the IAEA will be identifying between 130 to 150 inspectors who will be responsible for regularly visiting Iran, working in Iran, to verify that Iran is in – remains in compliance.

Additionally, Iran agreed as of implementation day to implement the Additional Protocol, which is an extra series of rules and procedures by which the IAEA can get access not only to declared facilities in Iran but any place in Iran where it believes nuclear activity might be going on. So this will give the IAEA the ability to follow up if there’s a report that there’s a covert nuclear operation somewhere that inspectors will be able to follow certain procedures to go there and inspect.

The IAEA also put in place really monitoring and verification and checks at every step along the way in the nuclear fuel cycle within Iran. So the uranium mines will be monitored, the factories that produce centrifuges will be monitored, the actual enrichment sites at Natanz at their enrichment fuel site – fuel enrichment site will be monitored. So there will be very – it will be very difficult to divert nuclear material to a covert program without the IAEA being aware of it.

And then finally, the – Iran has agreed in the framework of the Security Council to procure all of its materials for its nuclear program on the international market through very carefully monitored procurement channels, so that any material that Iran tries to buy or needs to buy for its nuclear program has to get the approval of a subcommittee of the P5+1 plus Iran that will work with the Security Council in approving every single sale of this material.

So through all of these measures we effectively guarantee – before implementation day, a few months ago – if, despite its public announcements that it did not want to build a nuclear weapon, if Iran had decided today we’re going to build a nuclear weapon, a few months ago they could have done so with its existing capabilities within about two months. Now, as a – its so-called breakout time. Now, as a result of these measures and the departure from Iran of all of this enriched material, with this reduction in its enrichment capacity, if Iran decided today to build a nuclear weapon, it would take at least one year to do so. So there’s been a more than six-fold increase in the amount of time, which gives some assurance to Iran’s neighbors and others in the world community that the threat of a nuclear Iran is not as serious as they may have considered it at one point.

So I mentioned we lifted sanctions, a certain number of sanctions together with our European partners and the United Nations, effective on implementation day, and we did so on Saturday. Effectively, we’ve removed – some years ago, the United States had – there’s a lot of sanctions on Iran for lots of reasons, because of our various disagreements and differences that we’ve had with Iran on human rights, on terrorism, and regional stability over the years. But we’ve lifted those sanctions that were imposed for nuclear reasons that put sanctions on third countries who did business or banking with Iran. So foreign businesses or governments had a choice. If they did business with Iran, they would not be able to get access to the U.S. financial system, and so it was an additional source of pressure. So all of those sanctions have been lifted. So now foreign governments, foreign banks can do business with Iran without any risk to their businesses in the United States.

We’ve also removed similar sanctions on insurance companies who would – could not insure activities in Iran without risking contacts with the United States. In energy, foreign entities, countries, are now free to buy Iranian petroleum products without any penalty with – to their business in the United States and a number of other sectors. So that will significant – allow significant expansion of trade with Iran by other countries.

Additionally, the United States on Saturday removed sanctions on individual Iranian entities and people who were under sanction because of their involvement in Iran’s nuclear program. And so 400 of those entities were un-sanctioned on Saturday.

Additionally, the United States, although American – Americans, American businesses are broadly prohibited from doing business with Iran for other reasons, the United States Government decided as a part of this agreement to let foreign-owned subsidiaries of American companies, who may be owned by American companies but operate overseas – they will now be allowed to do business in Iran. And those – a license to allow that was released on Saturday by our Treasury Department.

Additionally, the United States has agreed – we used to have – allow some trade from Iran, some imports from Iran: carpets and foodstuffs – pistachios, caviar, and so forth. That was eliminated as a part of sanctions back in 2010. That has now been restored. So if you want to buy Iranian or import Iranian pistachios or buy good Persian carpets, you can do so again legally in the United States.

And then the United States agreed to lift a prohibition on direct U.S.-Iranian trade and investment in the aviation industry. So aviation companies are now free to sell either airplanes or aviation support products to Iranian entities, which is a major breakthrough in terms of allowing a new category of trade between the United States and Iran.

So as I said, all of these took effect last Saturday or on the first business day since Saturday. Some parts – it’s a major change in how I think the world and certainly the United States will be dealing with Iran. Some things do remain the same. Obviously, there are significant foreign policy differences between the Iranian Government and the American Government, whether it concerns the Middle East peace process or regional stability, events in Syria. Of course, we have serious differences with the Iranian Government. We have concerns about Iran’s support for terrorist activities, we have concerns about the human rights situation in Iran, and there are different sanctions that remain in place for those reasons. This nuclear deal was never supposed to be about those parts of the relationship; it was just about reducing the threat of a potential nuclear Iran and giving Iran the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is, in fact, peaceful in a verifiable kind of way.

So it’s an important development in U.S.-Iranian relations. It’s an important development, I think, in nonproliferation, nuclear nonproliferation, and in general regional security concerns that we think will make a positive difference. But the work is just beginning. We’ve reached this goal. I think we’re going to be, as Orna mentioned, working in – with my staff and others in the U.S. Government going forward to make sure that both sides comply with the deal, that Iran keeps its commitments, that we as a government keep our commitments together with our European partners, and we’ll keep working at it. But it’s a good outcome. I think Iran got something that was important for it, we got something that was important for us, and I hope we can build on it going forward to improve security in – particularly in that region.

So I’ll stop there before I completely lose my voice. I’ll be happy to take any questions.

MS BLUM: Thank you, Ambassador Mull. And that’s a good opportunity – I understand we’d like to increase our volume, so we’re just going to have one of our colleagues move our microphone so we can make sure that we pick up your Q&A for everyone clearly.


MS BLUM: So thank you. And if there are any other adjustments, we can take a break if you needed to make an adjustment right here.

QUESTION: I’m fine, thank you.

MS BLUM: You’re okay? All right.

STAFF: We’re working on connecting to New York, and it’s a good opportunity to do that. Sorry. We’re working on connecting to New York.

MS BLUM: Thank you. Bear with us. Thank you.


MS BLUM: New York, are you there? New York, are you there?

NYFPC MODERATOR: We are. Yes, we can hear you. Thank you.

MS BLUM: All right, thank you for your patience, and welcome to those in New York. And Ambassador Mull has given his statement, so we’re going to start with questions here in Washington, and then on occasion I’ll take a break so that we can jump to New York, and I’ll open it up just to ask since I can’t see you visually. But thank you.

So with that, for Ambassador Mull, do you have any questions? Yes.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Andrei. I’m with – I’m a Russian reporter with TASS here in Washington, D.C. Thank you for doing this, sir, and thanks for – to our friends at the FPC for doing this. You mentioned – and congratulations, sir, on this outcome – you mentioned that the deal was basically – was implemented and then the beginning of a new process. I understand the cooperation between our nations was important to achieve the result, but what’s ahead? What do you expect next from your Russian partners, if anything?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Well, thanks for that question, Andrei, and you’re right. Of course, U.S.-Russia relations have challenges on any number of fronts. But I have to say one of the most pleasant surprises for me when I started in this job back in September was, in fact, the really excellent cooperation that existed between the United States and Russia – really all of our partners, but Russia made a particularly strong contribution, both on technical matters – I think even during the very worst periods of our relations, I think the United States and the Soviet Union and then later Russia generally had a pretty constructive relationship on nonproliferation concerns, and that certainly continued on the Iran issue.

Russian advice, particularly our friends from Rosatom, in trying to overcome – one of the real challenges that Iran faced was having so much enriched nuclear material in different forms, and they needed to get rid of it. They needed a place to send it to. They needed a way to consolidate it in an accountable form. There were some technical challenges in undertaking that process, and Russia was on top of this process every step of the way. And in fact, it was a Russian ship that removed almost all of Iran’s enriched nuclear material just after Christmas.

So I think moving forward, Russia and the United States both sit on something called the Joint Commission, which is comprised of representatives from – I sit on it for the United States; Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov from Russia sits on it; and then representatives from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and China, along with Iran, sit on this Joint Commission. So as there are issues – either questions about whether something’s being implemented correctly or if there’s a complaint that Iran has gone above 300 kilograms or we’ve not completely lifted a sanction that we promised to – we’ll work very closely together with Russia in the Joint Commission to decide how can we correct issues that come up.

I suspect there’s going to be huge opportunities for Russia and other members of the Joint Commission, and one of the commitments that was in the agreement was to allow – to make it easier for civil nuclear cooperation to take place between the international community and Iran. Russia has a very rich tradition of civilian nuclear power around the world; in fact, previously it cooperated in building the Bushehr reactor in Russia. So I think Russia will have more opportunities to pursue civil nuclear cooperation with Iran. The United States probably won’t be involved so much in that. We have a number of internal legal difficulties that prevent us doing that, but I think we’ll work closely with Russia and other members of the Joint Commission to make sure that others will have that opportunity.

QUESTION: So when they will next meet as a commission? In February?

AMBASSADOR MULL: We have to meet at least once every three months.


AMBASSADOR MULL: So the last meeting we had was at the beginning of December, so – and that means we have to meet again sometime before the beginning of March. So I think sometime in February is most likely.

MS BLUM: Okay, and you had a question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Gero Schliess, DW, Deutsche Welle. Thank you very much for briefing us here. I’m interested more in some detailed information, so what are the details for lifting the sanctions – the financial sanctions, for instance – at the moment? And is there coordination between U.S. and Germany and other countries? So I hear that there’s a lot of confusion at the moment and there’s a lot of need for communication and coordination. Maybe you can develop this a little bit.

And one question, also: Is there a structure for the so-called snapback effect? Is the structure already created, or have you still to work on it? Because this is a completely new – new things to organize.

And the last question is on your – on the permission for American aviation industry to do business with Iran. Why is that? Is it because of special business interests of American industry there, or what’s your specific reason for this exception?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Okay, those are all good questions. On the sanctions process, these were negotiated throughout – which – exactly which sanctions would be lifted were negotiated throughout the process that produced the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action. And we cooperated extremely closely with the European members of the negotiating group because the European Union has some sanctions in place for Iran’s nuclear program. We have some others that don’t exactly match up, and so we coordinated very closely with our European partners in making sure that when we lifted sanctions, it was in a coherent, coordinated way. And so members of my team over the course of the past six months regularly traveled to Europe – we also had a meeting in New York – not only to meet with representatives from the E3 – Germany, France, and the UK – but also with representatives of the European Union’s high representative as well, who was involved in the process, to make sure that we had a coherent approach to lifting the sanctions. We also brought in our Iranian negotiating partners to make sure that we were answering questions that they had.

And so those consultations produced a series of – there’s 40 or 50 pages of guidance that are available on our Treasury’s website to advise businesses on what can they now do in Iran: what has been lifted, what is – what are they now allowed to do that they weren’t allowed to do before, but on the other hand, what are some things still in place that businesses should keep in mind. So I would encourage any business to consult that guidance before beginning.

But we’re not trying to stand in the way of legitimate business in Iran. It used to be, working at embassies overseas, whenever we found out that there was a trade mission – I last worked in Europe before I had this job. If we found out there was going to be a trade mission from Europe to Iran, I would usually get instructions to try and stop it. So we’re not doing that anymore. If a European firm wants to do business in Iran that’s clearly allowed by this nuclear agreement, they should go ahead and do it. It’s not our job to stop them. However, there are some sanctions that remain in place. It’s good to familiarize yourself with them.

The snapback procedure – it’s pretty unique in terms of deals like this. There’s a huge regime of sanctions that were on Iran because of the nuclear program. There are a number of sanctions that still remain for other reasons. So for the nuclear sanctions that have now been lifted, there was an agreement that if the – any negotiating partner believes that there has been a violation of the agreement, there are ways to report that violation and to challenge it. So in the case of Iran’s compliance with its nuclear obligations, if we believe that Iran has broken one of its commitments – if it’s enriching more material or if it’s building another plutonium reactor that was not agreed to – the United States or any other partner – Russia, any other member of the Joint Commission – can bring this to the attention of the Joint Commission and give Iran the opportunity to correct it to bring it back into compliance. If Iran does not, then the so-called snapback procedure is initiated, in which any member of the Joint Commission Joint Commission, first of all, can unilaterally – we – for the United States, there’s nothing to stop us from saying, all right, we’re imposing our unilateral sanctions again. And then in terms of the UN sanctions, if a majority of the Joint Commission believes that Iran is not in compliance and that there should be a snapback of sanctions, that will be reported to the Security Council and the Security Council sanctions will be automatically placed back on and cannot be vetoed by any veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

So we think that it’s a good insurance policy to have to make sure that both sides keep the commitment. Also Iran – and this is a political agreement. It’s not a treaty or anything like that. Iran may decide that we have not kept our commitments and there’s nothing to stop them from breaking the agreement, but if they did that, of course it would then result in snapback.

So I think all of us together have a common interest in making sure this agreement will succeed without resorting to snapback sanctions, but if they – if for whatever reason there’s noncompliance, we will make sure that there are consequences.

MS BLUM: Yes, in the back please.

QUESTION: The last question was on the aviation trade.

MS BLUM: Oh, as a follow-up to aviation, then we’ll --

AMBASSADOR MULL: Aviation – yes. On that, again, this emerged in the negotiation process. The United States and Iran has been – made very clear Iran in the past had purchased before the revolution lots of airplanes and airplane equipment from American companies, and they have consistently argued that one of their most important goals is to be able to have aviation-linked trade with the United States because it’s a flight safety issue. And the United States also, regardless of political differences that we have with countries around the world, we’re – we also care very much about flight safety issues as well.

So we – Iran suggested that they would like relief from the bans on aviation trade as part of the negotiations. We considered that favorable. Obviously, American companies will be competing just as European and other countries will as well.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for doing this, Ambassador. Michael Wilner with The Jerusalem Post. The first question I have is on the adoptive phase that just ended. There seems to be some surprise over how the Iranians weren’t carefully dismantling their centrifuges but they were really ripping them out, and they were doing so at such a pace to get to, obviously, last Saturday before the parliamentary elections next month. Were you surprised at the pace and were you surprised at the methods by which they were ripping out some of the infrastructure? That’s one.

Two, on the process of pursuing the Additional Protocol litigation process, sort of putting an end to that with the 28 days, which was obviously a big controversy when the deal was first adopted, is it your understanding and would you say right now that under no circumstances will there be litigation over access to an undeclared facility that lasts longer than 28 days? Is there anything in the agreement, any language, that allows the Iranians to say we are opposing access to this site, this undeclared site for x, y, and z reasons, but they don’t produce the paperwork in time, and so that 14-day process extends to a month and so forth? Are you concerned about that? Is there any language that concerns you?

And then three, have you or will you be briefing Israelis any time soon? Is that a regular point on your calendar every month?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Sure. But thanks for those questions, Michael. On the first question in terms of the speed with which Iran dismantled its infrastructure – I remember when I first started the job back in September, most of my colleagues within the U.S. Government thought that it would take anywhere between six and nine months for Iran to meet all of its requirements. And they started to do so as soon as we reached adoption day, which was after all of us had gone through our various parliamentary review processes and we had adoption day on October 18th.

They initially started pretty quickly, but then things kind of slowed down because one of the side issues in this agreement was the process – the so-called roadmap that Iran had negotiated with the IAEA to address the indications that Iran had a nuclear weapons program from 10 to 15 years ago – and so that became a domestic political issue in Iran and the supreme leader said that until the IAEA moved to close the file on past activity, it would not take any more steps.

And so that all happened at the beginning of December, and the IAEA passed a resolution bringing to a close the past line of inquiry while opening up a whole new road of engagement on the Additional Protocol. And then – so once it reached that point, then political support for moving forward came together again. And so from the middle of December really straight through until we had implementation day, you’re right, things moved at really a fast, fast pace.

So I – some people were surprised that they did so; many others were not. Many people point to the upcoming elections in Iran, that that was an additional motive that the Rouhani government wanted to get to implementation day as fast as possible because maybe it would help them in the elections. But officially, we’ve always – this part of the agreement was really up to Iran. And they could proceed at whatever pace they wanted to do, but the one thing was clear: We would not lift sanctions until they did everything that they needed to do. So some people were surprised, others weren’t. But rather that focusing on expectations, we were really much more focused on did they do all of these specific things that they needed to do. Once they did, we would then support lifting sanctions, which is what happened last Saturday.

I’m sorry, your second question was on --

QUESTION: My second question was on the language that outlines the 28-day window for access to --

AMBASSADOR MULL: Yeah. So it’s actually – it’s 24 days, isn’t it, Mark (ph)? So yeah. So the – it’s time-limited by 24 days. And so there’s – different countries can say that they don’t have time to allow it, but the clock starts running – from the moment that the IAEA makes its request, the clock starts running. And if Iran does not – refuses access, there’s an appeal process that goes through the Joint Commission. The Joint Commission must convene at a certain point. So the longest amount of time that Iran can draw this out is 24 days. And if Iran does not comply with that final 24-day period, well, then it becomes a matter for the Joint Commission to decide if the infraction is sufficiently severe to impose – start moving down to impose penalties, to impose snapback.

QUESTION: So – but my question is: Does the truncated appellate process which makes up those 24 days – it’s a series of windows – after 7 or 8 days or whatnot they can – they are requested to give a written proposal as to why they’re opposing access to whatever site. And if they don’t provide sufficient reasoning in that first 14 days or whatnot, do you foresee a situation in your position where that 24 days can somehow under any circumstances be drawn out beyond 24 days to 30 days, to longer?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Well, it’s hard to answer a hypothetical question, but I mean, I – certainly, our goal is that we were very, very strong in insisting on that procedure. And we fully intend that all the parties to the agreement, especially Iran, complies with that. So it’s – again, it’s hard to answer a hypothetical question, but I can’t imagine the circumstance under which we would not insist on what we had negotiated, because a lot of people are going to be concerned about what that kind of delay means.

QUESTION: And then the third --

MS BLUM: There’s one follow up– there was a third part and then I was going to go to New York after --


QUESTION: The third one was on briefing the Israelis (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR MULL: Yeah. So – yeah, so I’ve actually had, just since September I think four separate meetings with Israeli officials who have come to Washington, both from the foreign ministry and the national security advisor’s team to the prime minister. And I fully anticipate going to Israel to brief sometime soon. We want to have a regular dialogue with the Israeli Government about their concerns with this agreement. The Israeli Government’s opposition to the agreement is very well known, and the – but regardless of views on the agreement, I think we share the same strategic goal, and that is making sure that Iran’s nuclear program is a peaceful one. And so even though we may disagree on tactics, I think we want to stay very close in touch with our Israeli friends because we share the same strategic goal. And so we look forward to frequent, early, often communication with them.

MS BLUM: Thank you. I’d like to pause and ask – turn things to New York for a question and then to Nikki. New York, is there a question?

QUESTION: Thank you so much for this opportunity. Bingxin Li from People’s Daily. I wanted to ask a simple question – that if this deal can be copied to DPRK. And of course, DPRK deny to have that and (inaudible) the deal was signed in the last July. But thinking about the situation in this area, there is no – there is no better one than the Six-Party Talks. So what is your comment on that? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MULL: Yeah. I really wouldn’t be able to speculate on the applicability of this program, of this approach, to North Korea. As you mentioned, sir, we’ve had the Six-Party dialogue. The United States along with its partners in the Six-Party Talks have been working for well more than 20 years now to approach this problem of North Korea’s nuclear program. We haven’t succeeded, obviously, since North Korea has now exploded several nuclear weapons. We’ll certainly keep trying, working with our partners in the Six-Party Talks to find a way.

Each country’s nuclear program, of course, is very specific. Some – one thing that distinguishes Iran’s program is Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which North Korea is not. So that already gives us a framework with which to engage Iran. It, of course, hasn’t always worked very well, but we’re hopeful, with this latest agreement, we’ll be able to make better progress. So I think there are two different cases. We have a structure already in place for approaching the North Korea challenge, and I think we’ll continue to use that one.

MS BLUM: Okay. Thank you. Nikki.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. My name is Nikki Kazimova. I’m with Echo Newspaper in Azerbaijan. You mentioned the ship that transported sometime around Christmas all of the enriched uranium from Iran to Russia, and I understand that Azerbaijan played a role in facilitating that shipment. Can you comment on that?

And the other question is more general: Are there still any financial or logistical or any other kind of sanctions that still prevent the flow of large quantities of Iranian oil to the world markets or – and how soon do you expect --


QUESTION: -- that oil to hit the world markets?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Yeah, okay. Thanks for those questions, Nikki. The shipment of uranium to Russia played such a critical role in – back in December; in fact, had a number of parties involved. And it was a very complicated arrangement by which Iran gave up its enriched uranium in exchange for the supply from various sources of natural uranium, which it could then use for the limited enrichment activities it will be allowed to have.

And one piece of this, one piece of the natural uranium, came from Kazakhstan. And it was extremely complicated. The Government of Norway helped to fund this transaction and – but then we had to find a way to transport the natural uranium from Kazakhstan to Iran, and that involved working with various countries in the region to get the proper flight clearances and diplomatic clearances and so forth. And so Azerbaijan was a very helpful partner to us in facilitating this process for which we’re very grateful.

QUESTION: So it wasn’t so much to transport the enriched uranium from Iran, but rather, to deliver uranium from Kazakhstan?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Just to facilitate the movement from Kazakhstan to Iran, which happened just after Christmas. The – in terms of oil access for Iranian oil, there are no – well, there are some restrictions. American companies or Americans still, because of our own internal sanctions, are not allowed to purchase Iranian oil directly from them. But there are no American sanctions on companies that want to buy Iranian oil. So if a European firm or an Asian firm wants to buy Iranian oil, they can do so without any consequences from sanctions from the American Government.

So the only real limit now for trade is, of course, the price of oil, which isn’t very high now. And so that might limit its trade. But in terms of legal restrictions and consequences for buying Iranian oil, countries around the world do not have to worry about sanctions from the United States on that.

MS BLUM: Okay. Bingru Wang.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is going to visit Iran tomorrow. And today he publicized a signed article that he said China is going to work closely with Iran to ensure there is smooth implementation of the JCPOA. So first of all, what is the role you expect China to play? And secondly, the Chinese president actually is the first world – the major world leader to visit Iran after the implementation day. What do you expect coming out of this visit? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MULL: Yeah. China has also been, much like Russia, has been an incredibly important partner in bringing about the success of the JCPOA – particularly, one of the projects I mentioned was this plutonium heavy-water reactor at Arak. And China really has played the leading role in terms of supporting the modernization of that reactor. And so now that Iran has removed the previous reactor core, it’s now going to build the reactor in a different way. And the United States and China will be co-chairing a working group within the P5+1 to oversee the design of that reactor. I think Chinese firms will play a role in modernizing that reactor, and we’ll be working together to make sure that as this new reactor comes online, it will be in a way that eliminates concerns about nonproliferation. So in other words, it won’t – the new design of the reactor will not permit it to produce weapons-grade plutonium. And China has a lot of experience with heavy-water reactors that I think will be very helpful.

I noticed that President Xi Jinping is going, in fact, this weekend to Iran. I’d refer you to the Iranians and the Chinese Government on what they expect. Of course, I mentioned to our German colleague earlier we’re certainly not trying to stop economic or diplomatic engagement with Iran. We would just hope that, just as China has played a very constructive role throughout this process, that China will continue to play that role in all of its engagement with the Iranian Government.

MS BLUM: Any other questions? Varughese.

QUESTION: Yes, my name is Varughese George. I write for The Hindu in India. Two quick questions: One is, the primary sanctions, why are they there for to begin with, and will it stay forever? Is aviation the only sector that you will have relaxation there?

And second question is: So you start in doing a complicated negotiation with a country with which you barely – I mean, you had no diplomatic relations at all. The end of it all, do you think that you have a structure of contacts or diplomatic contacts with Iran which you could liberate for other purposes – for example in Syria, or maybe in future in – because it being a volatile region, you might require that. Are you looking at that possibility as well?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Okay. Good questions. The primary sanctions are – have been in place for a long time, mostly because of the very difficult relationship that we’ve had with Iran since the revolution in 1979. We have fundamental differences in – on a lot of issues, whether it’s in the Middle East peace process, whether it’s in just general regional stability. We have serious concerns about the state of human rights inside of Iran. We have serious concerns about Iran’s missile program, which, of course, is the subject of continuing UN Security Council sanctions. And so – and then there’s the whole bilateral component, the way in which our bilateral relations ended back more than 35 years ago with taking American diplomats hostage and all sorts of unresolved claims between our two governments have resulted in these sanctions over the years.

So when we undertook these negotiations, it was really focused just on Iran’s nuclear program. And I think it’s a good example that if Iran abides by its commitments and has sanctions lifted, just personally speaking, I hope that that’s a good sign that modifications of behavior on other issues of concern could also result in a modification of our relations. But it’s just too early to tell, but we’ll be monitoring very closely.

In terms of having diplomatic contacts with Iran, it’s very interesting. Just a personal aside: I last worked with – on Iranian issues back in 2009 and 2010, and I remember I went to a meeting with then-Under Secretary of State Bill Burns and a few others to a P5+1 meeting in Geneva. And we decided to have a bilateral meeting with the Iranians on the side of that session, and the talking points that we had for that meeting were very tightly controlled. They had to be reviewed at extremely high levels in our government. We had very strict instructions that we had to sit in that room and read every single point; we couldn’t change a word. And the Iranians clearly had the same kind of instruction. It was a very awkward, sterile kind of exchange.

And then, to come back to this issue, back in September I first met my Iranian counterparts in September with Wendy Sherman, who negotiated this deal. And to see the change in communication was really phenomenal. Obviously, we have still huge policy differences between us, but we could also sit in a room and have an unstructured discussion. We could ask them why did you do this, what is your goal in doing this, here’s our goal, is there anything we have in common – to start looking at ways of constructively solving problems.

So I don’t mean to be naive, but the fact that we can talk to someone who we normally consider to be an adversary does open up opportunities for us to find what’s the other side’s motive, what’s the other side’s objective, can they meet that objective without endangering the objectives of us and our friends in the region. And I think that so far, the success we’ve had in the JCPOA says that we can do that. I mean, we, through this deal, have managed to come up with a way that has significantly blocked the opportunity for Iran to threaten its neighbors with a nuclear weapon, which is a key goal not only of ours but of our Israeli friends, our other friends who live in the region. And we did it in a way that Iran was able to accommodate its interests as well.

So I think it’s a good example of the power of diplomacy. If you are consistent about it and you communicate and you listen, you can find a way to address common interests, because there are interests that we have in common with Iran. And I hope that we’ll be able to find other common objectives going forward. For the time being, the supreme leader has made it very clear for whatever reasons that the only means or the only area in which he permits his government to engage with the United States is on the nuclear question, and that’s fine. We’re ready to engage with them on the nuclear question, and we have and we will continue to as we make sure the deal is fully implemented.

MS BLUM: Thank you. I think we have time – we originally had time for two questions, but I think we have 10 hands raised. If you – I’d like to go to New York, see if there’s another question here and offer --


MS BLUM: And I know that you’ve been waiting, and then we’ll see it how it goes.


MS BLUM: So New York, do you have any questions from members of your center?

NYFPC MODERATOR: No, thank you.

MS BLUM: Oh, okay. All right. Well, thank you very much. Over to you, sir.

QUESTION: Okay. My name is Tomotaro Inoue from Kyodo News, Japan. Thank you for doing this. I have two questions. One – the first one is the Iranian money. So according to White House backgrounder, they have $100 abroad, and now they – the Iranians have – will have access to half of the 1 billion, so it’s like $50 million. So I’m wondering where those monies are, so I’m wondering, could you elaborate where and what kind of form they have those monies?

And the second question is about the (inaudible) question on DPRK. So Iran and DPRK has – have a long history of cooperation, substantive cooperation on (inaudible). So I’m wondering whether you have any concern that they may have some cooperation in the field of nuclear weapons and – or so DPRK may subcontract obtaining a bomb, Iranian nuclear bomb. So what is your thoughts? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR MULL: Sure, so good question. So with the lifting of sanctions that took place this past Saturday, you’re right, it does give Iran access to its assets of at least $50 billion, maybe even a little more, that those assets had been frozen in various banks around the world and so now Iran is able to get access to those funds. I think they’ll have some challenges in figuring out how to collect it and what they want to do with it. But the way – and many of the funds, as far as I understand it, are already committed on trade deals that they’ve made with other countries, and the understanding was that the moment the assets are unfrozen there was some part of those funds would have to go to people holding debt from Iran in those trade deals.

So it’s unclear exactly how much will flow, and it’s Iran’s – it’s Iran’s money. I know that they have a lot of significant domestic economic challenges to manage. I think it’ll be a subject of a lot of interest in the world community what happens to those funds, so I think people will be watching closely.

In terms of North Korean-Iranian nuclear cooperation, while the United States is convinced that there was work on a nuclear weapons program in the early part of this century, we believe that that work stopped in – since 2007 we don’t really have – well, even since before 2007 we don’t have evidence that that’s been going on in a systematic way. So we don’t know – we don’t believe that North Korea is trying to work with Iran in helping Iran to develop a nuclear weapons program. We’ve not noticed anything like that.

We believe that with the careful monitoring and verification system that we’ll have in place that if there were a move to develop a nuclear weapon we would become aware of that pretty quickly through the IAEA and that we’d be able to take appropriate measures under the terms of the agreement to make sure there are consequences for that.

MS BLUM: And time for our last question, thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador. My name is Tatsuya Mizumoto from Jiji Press. I have two question. One is very simple question. You said Iran’s breakout time is now a year from two months.


QUESTION: Does Iran have complete knowledge about how to build nuclear weapon? That’s one.

The second one is the sanction. You said still U.S. individuals and entity cannot have business with Iran entity. So what sanction broke if you have business with Iran?

AMBASSADOR MULL: I’m sorry. What --

QUESTION: Yeah. Why you cannot? Why you cannot have the business – I mean American people? I mean, you lifted the sanction which is regarding nuclear weapon, and that is – most of those are secondary sanction, right? And still you cannot.

AMBASSDOR MULL: Right, right. Okay.

QUESTION: So why you cannot do that?

AMBASSADOR MULL: Okay, sure. So – and I’m sorry, your first question was on the --

QUESTION: The know-how.


AMBASSADOR MULL: Oh, know-how, that’s right. So yeah. So one of the challenges in dealing with the nuclear weapons program not only in Iran or anywhere, one of the hardest things to measure is human intention and human capacity. You can’t – you can’t bomb an idea. It’s hard to measure ideas and technology and to the extent of technical expertise.

What we do know is that there was a portion of the Iranian Government working in a very organized, systematic way to develop the capability to build a nuclear weapon. We don’t know to the extent to which that knowledge has been tested or even survived. So when constructing an agreement to make sure that we’re going to be safer and our friends in the region are going to be safer from a possible nuclear weapon, we look at the things that we can measure. How much fissile material is there? How big is Iran’s enrichment capacity? Does the international community through the IAEA have the capability to investigate any suspicious activity anywhere in the country? And if they do that, how – what do they find? How much uranium has been diverted and so forth?

And so we built this deal in a way that it rested on what we can measure and verify. And no matter the breakout timeline is developed on the expectation that Iran already has the intellectual power, the intellectual capacity, to build a weapon. We don’t know for sure if they do, but the timeline that we calculate is based on a worst-case scenario. If they know how to do it, how long would it take to do? And our current calculation is, as a result of the steps that Iran has taken since October, is that it would now take a year instead of two months. But it could take – it could take longer, depending on their knowledge.

In terms of sanctions, well, some people in the American business community complain that they are not going to be able to take advantage of the sanctions lifting the way our friends in Asia and Europe are now going to be able to, but it’s just because that successive American administrations have decided to place sanctions on Iran because of all of these issues, because of human rights concerns, because of their opposition to the Middle East peace process, their threats to the state of Israel sometimes quite openly in the past few years, their support for terrorism. Successive American administrations have decided to place sanctions on Iran for the American economy to have nothing to do with Iran.

So we’ve made some exceptions, as I mentioned, in the aviation sector and also being able to import carpets and food from Iran. But I think at least as of now, it’s clear that there is not an appetite in the Congress to reduce those sanctions further. If Iranian behavior improves on some of these other issues, perhaps future congresses will decide to do so. But for now it’s the law that American companies, with the exception of those few areas I mentioned, may not have business dealings with Iran.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) relating nuclear issue? I mean, should I understand the U.S. still have the sanction to – regarding the nuclear issue? I mean, I understand you have sanction for human rights issue or terrorism or instability. But that’s why you cannot have business with Iran? Or --

AMBASSADOR MULL: That’s right.

QUESTION: That’s why.

AMBASSADOR MULL: That’s right. No, the nuclear – all of the secondary sanctions that we’ve now lifted were imposed for nuclear reasons. The sanctions that remain from the United States are for other issues.

MS BLUM: Thank you very much, Ambassador Stephen Mull.

AMBASSADOR MULL: Thanks. Thanks a lot.

MS BLUM: And to all of you. That concludes our briefing for the afternoon.

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