June 26, 2015, Washington, D.C. – On June 19th, 2015, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) held a congressional briefing to present the findings of its 2015 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans and the American Public at large, followed by a panel discussion on the Iran nuclear negotiations. In attendance were more than ninety congressional staffers as well as members of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the US Department of State.
The event began with opening remarks from PAAIA’s Executive Director, Leila Austin, followed by a presentation of the poll findings presented by PAAIA’s Director of Government Affairs, Morad Ghorban. Conducted by Zogby Research Services, the 2015 poll examines the opinions of Iranian Americans and the American public at large relating to the nuclear negotiations, sanctions on Iran, and broader US-Iran relations. The results indicate that both Iranian Americans and the American public at large are supportive of a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Following the presentation, a panel of Iran experts discussed the status of the nuclear negotiations, internal dynamics within Iran’s government, and regional implications of a nuclear deal with Iran. The panelist included Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Alireza Nader, Senior International Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation, and Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute and the US Air Force Special Operations School. The panel discussion was moderated by award-winning Reuters journalist, Yaganeh June Torbati.
Maloney began the discussion by examining the nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran. Although Maloney expressed optimism about a final nuclear accord, she explained that “there is an enormous amount of detail that has to be worked out.” She mentioned sanctions relief as one of the outstanding issues that still needs to be settled. Iran would like the nuclear-related sanctions to be removed immediately, while the U.S. and its negotiating partners would like sanctions relief to occur in accordance to the implementation of the deal.
Maloney pointed out that immediate sanctions relief is not a viable option, as removing sanctions will take time and requirements will have to be met. “The nuclear-related sanctions were a tool—a means to an end—and if we can get to the end, we will dispense with the tool, at least on a conditional basis,” she stated during the discussion.
Nader gave his insight into the Iranian perspective by discussing the internal dynamics of the country. He explained that the Iranian public hopes that a deal is made that will result in an improved economy and more personal freedoms. While a deal seems promising, Nader expressed skepticism that a nuclear deal will lead to great changes within Iran.
“Iran has the ingredients for change,” acknowledged Nader. “It has a well-educated population that supports change in Iran. It has a good economic base and a good technological base.” Nevertheless, he explained, “The political structure hasn’t changed, the personalities haven’t changed; it’s just that the government of Iran really wants a nuclear deal.”
Vatanka described the issues facing Iran in a regional context and how the country is handling them. “[The Supreme Leader] has paid attention to what is happening in the Arab world since 2011,” said Vatanka. “He knows full well that that sort of instability could one day find itself in Iran too. So he wants to remove the sanctions so they can start distributing some of that oil money back into society to keep people somewhat satisfied.”
Vatanka also addressed Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, which some experts worry may dash to acquire the same nuclear capabilities as Iran following a nuclear deal. To this point Vatanka noted, “If there is a nuclear deal, I bet a lot of those Gulf Arab states, which are at the forefront of opposing Iran will have second thoughts. And they might very quickly decide to actually lessen the tension with the Iranians.”
In response to a question on whether the U.S. has changed its position on the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s nuclear program, Nader explained that the PMD issue is still part of negotiations and that this matter has been inaccurately conveyed in the media. “One thing to remember is the Iranian government is not going to come out and say we did have a weapons program… but Iran, in the future, has to provide access to its military facilities to ensure that it is not working on a weapons program.”
The panelists expressed the sense that a comprehensive nuclear agreement that effectively cuts off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and ensures that Iran’s nuclear program can only be used for peaceful purposes would be in the best interest of U.S. national security and prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
“This is not the best deal that the world could have with Iran,” summarized Maloney. “But it is a deal that will put us in a better position for the next 10 to 15 years and even after that point it is going to give us the keys to the castle…We are going to have far better knowledge about what Iran has been doing, what it has done in the past and what its future intentions are. And that in my mind is a pretty good outcome.”
Click here to view the slideshow presentation.
Click here to view video of panel discussion.