Obama: Diplomacy with Iran has restrained nuclear program

Article Summary
US President Barack Obama says that since the start of the nuclear talks with Iran, it is "probably the first year-and-a-half in which Iran has not advanced its nuclear program in the last decade."

US President Barack Obama issued a vigorous defense of his policy of diplomatic engagement with historic adversaries such as Cuba and Iran, saying the negotiations with Iran have resulted in demonstrable restraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

“You look at an example like Iran, over the last year-and-a-half, since we began negotiations with them, that's probably the first year-and-a-half in which Iran has not advanced its nuclear program in the last decade,” Obama said in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley Dec. 21.

“We know that,” Obama continued. “That’s not just verified by the United Nations and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and ourselves. Even critics of our policy, like the [Benjamin] Netanyahu government in Israel, their intelligence folks have acknowledged that, in fact, Iran has not made progress.”

Obama said his announcement last week that he is authorizing normalization of relations with Cuba shows he is seizing opportunities to change course and thaw relations with historic adversaries.

“Cuba offers us an example of an opportunity to try something different,” Obama told CNN. “For 50 years, we have tried to see if we can overthrow the regime through isolation. It hasn't worked. If we engage, we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there's going to be some generational change in that country.”

Obama’s comments come after the United States and Iran last week resumed bilateral negotiations to try to reach a comprehensive Iran nuclear accord. The State Department has said little about the two days of US-Iran meetings, held Dec. 15-16 in Geneva, except that they were “useful.”

“All of the meetings in Geneva were useful, including the bilateral and P5+1 meetings,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists at a press briefing Dec. 19.

“Further meetings will take place in mid-January,” Psaki said, adding exact dates were still being finalized.

Meantime, Iran’s national security adviser said that a nuclear accord could further reduce US-Iran tensions in the region, though he said it would not lead to a broader rapprochement between the United States and Iran.

Iran and the United States “can behave in a way that they do not use their energy against each other,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the Financial Times in an interview published Dec. 22. “A nuclear agreement can be very crucial in this regard.”

“We will not die if there is no agreement and we will not not go to heaven if we reach an agreement,” Shamkhani said, adding that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported the nuclear talks.

“If he was looking for an excuse to break off negotiations, there was enough time to do so over the past year and a half of negotiations,” Shamkhani said.

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Found in: p5+1, nuclear negotiations, iran, iaea, diplomacy, cuba, barack obama, ali khamenei

Laura Rozen is Al-Monitor's diplomatic correspondent based in Washington, DC. She has written for Yahoo! News, Politico and Foreign Policy. On Twitter: @LRozen

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