How We Advocated for the Iran Deal
In recent years, few things have been as exhaustively debated or written about than the Iran deal.
That debate reignited this week after a long article about me included a section about the Iran deal. There are many issues raised in an article of this length, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to respond to those topics in the weeks and months to come.
However, given the importance of the questions raised about the Iran deal over the last few days, I want to make several points about one issue: how we advocated for the deal.
First, we never made any secret of our interest in pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran. President Obama campaigned on that position in 2008. We pursued several diplomatic efforts with Iran during the President’s first term, and the fact that there were discreet channels of communication established with Iran in 2012 is something that we confirmed publicly. However, we did not have any serious prospect of reaching a nuclear deal until after the election of Hasan Rouhani in 2013. Yes, we had discussions with the Iranians before that, but they did not get anywhere. After the Rouhani government took office, our confidential negotiations with the Iranians accelerated, and quickly led to public negotiations within the P5+1 process that began at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2013. Whatever your analysis of the relative weight of moderates or hard-liners in the Iranian system, there is no question that we were able to achieve a deal only after a change in the Iranian Administration.
Second, we did aggressively make the case for the Iran deal during the congressional review mandated by statute last summer, as it was imperative that the facts of the deal be understood for it to be implemented. Opponents of the deal had no difficulty in making their case — through commentary, a paid media campaign, and the distribution of materials making a variety of arguments against the deal. Tough and fair questions were raised; sometimes, there were also inaccuracies about the nature of the deal. Given our interest in making sure that any misinformation was corrected, and that people understood our policy, we made a concerted effort to provide information about the deal to any interested party, including to outside organizations and any journalists covering the issue. This effort to get information out with fact sheets, graphics, briefings, and social media was no secret — it was well reported on at the time. Of course the objective of that kind of effort is to build as much public support as you can — that’s a function of White House communications.
The critical point that the deal’s opponents are missing in the current debate is that we believed deeply in the case that we were making: about the effectiveness of the deal, about the value of diplomacy, and about the stakes involved. It wasn’t “spin,” it’s what we believed and continue to believe, and the hallmark of the entire campaign was to push out facts. These were complicated issues. We had to detail how Iran’s domestic enrichment program would be rolled back; how its heavy water reactor would be converted; how the verification regime would work. Moreover, the outside organizations who did effectively make the case for the Iran deal did so not because we told them to — they did so because they also believed in the merits of the deal. Many of the deal’s supporters were organizations dedicated to nuclear non-proliferation, diplomacy, and engagement with Iran. They had their own reasons to support diplomacy with Iran. Indeed, many of them find plenty to criticize in our policies from time to time.
Third, there was no shortage of good reporting and analysis — positive, negative, and mixed — about the Iran deal. Every press corps that I interacted with vetted that deal as extensively as any other foreign policy initiative of the presidency. A review of the press from that period will find plenty of tough journalism and scrutiny. We had to answer countless questions about every element of the deal and our broader Iran policy from reporters.
Indeed, I hardly remember last summer as a time of glowing reviews about the Iran deal. Opponents of the deal were more than capable of ensuring that their arguments were given prominent attention online, on opinion pages, and on television. And that only made it more of an imperative for us to answer hard questions.
Lost in all of this discussion of how we communicated about the deal is the heroic work done by the team of diplomats and experts who designed and negotiated the deal over a period of years — led by people like Secretaries John Kerry and Ernie Moniz, Wendy Sherman, Bill Burns, and Jake Sullivan. My job was to support them, and I believe they demonstrated what diplomacy can accomplish on even the most difficult issues. The proof of that accomplishment can be seen today in Iran, where the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is being implemented, averting a nuclear-armed Iran or a military conflict with Iran over its nuclear program. Despite our critics’ warnings, Iran has lived up to their commitments — shipping out its stockpile, disconnecting centrifuges, and converting its heavy water reactor. International monitors have had the access necessary to confirm these facts.
Today, Iran verifiably cannot obtain a nuclear weapon. That, more than anything I or anyone else can say, makes the case for the Iran deal.