SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. And indeed, along with that color, we have what we call the small team, which Secretary Kerry leads, of course, and myself and Rob Malley, and Helga Schmid, who’s the deputy for the European Union, and then bring in expertise as we need with Minister Zarif and his small group across the table. And we started at 9:00 p.m. -- I guess it's now the night before last, or something like that, and went until 6:00 a.m. in the morning. And in the middle of that, Dr. Salehi and Dr. Moniz came and joined. And people came in and out of that as we took up one issue after another of very hard, very tough, very difficult and concentrated negotiations.
Q Thanks very much, guys. Appreciate it. I wonder if you could give us a little bit more -- maybe back here -- about the President, his involvement in this. Take us inside the room just a little bit, and then were there moments where he was brought specific ideas and said, no, that's not acceptable? Were there moments where he suggested ways to get through some of these sticking points? How did he -- what role did he play from back in Washington?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'll start, and some of my colleagues who were in sessions with the President. But first of all, he has been meeting regularly with the negotiating team. We've had a number of Situation Room meetings when they return from discussions and before they go out for discussions over the course of the last couple of months when this really picked up in intensity. So he was able to review with the team the outcome of the latest round and the outstanding issues where we needed to figure out a way through.
And then before the team would go out to the talks, he had the opportunity to see them and to essentially go through what the plan was for achieving a resolution on certain issues. And then he was also able to have a number of videoconferences over the course of the last couple months with the negotiating team to get an update at critical moments in the negotiation when we were trying to find solutions to these difficult issues.
Last night, for instance, the negotiating team and Secretary Kerry were keeping Susan Rice and the President’s team here at the White House constantly updated. The President was on the phone around midnight with Susan Rice and some of the President’s national security team to go through some of the final issues, and then, again, make sure that the negotiating team had the understanding about what the bottom lines were for the President, and that the President also had an understanding of what types of solutions were being pursued in the discussions.
I guess the one thing I'd say is the President has made clear in a number of these recent sessions that he prioritizes the transparency and inspections portion of the deal, given the fact that it is ultimately the best possible way to prevent a covert pathway to a weapon, which is widely seen as the most likely way in which Iran would pursue a weapon. So he’s gone through in great and exhaustive detail what the nature of those inspections are, what the means are to prevent different ways in which Iran might pursue a covert path. So that's an area that, for instance, he prioritized it in these discussions.
But I don't know if --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If I may add, because I've been through that probably as long as, if not longer than anybody. The President impresses this team every single day. We talked to all of our colleagues from the other countries and their Presidents and their foreign ministers certainly are focused and see this as a high priority, but I daresay no one has put in the time, no one has learned materiel, no one has been as analytical or as decisive and clear about what the priorities are, what the objectives of this negotiation, clear about the negotiating space, clear about the kind of deal we had to get to ensure we’d shut down these pathways -- it’s really been quite remarkable.
But I don't know if my colleagues --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it probably gives people a chance to ask questions.
Q Can you just spell out a little bit kind of the tick-tock of this? I mean, there was a moment yesterday when it seemed like the whole thing was collapsing, and then suddenly things were back in play. Was that an illusion borne out by an exhausted press corps? Or was there really something that has seemed not to be happening and then there was suddenly an agreement? And how much of this had to do with signals coming from Tehran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me give you a sense of, if I can, what these negotiations are like besides incredibly tough and incredibly difficult with a lot of moving pieces and a lot of moving people. And of course, it's multilateral. There are six countries plus the European Union -- seven -- and Iran. So it's incredibly complex negotiations. And of course, to ensure that all those pathways to nuclear fissile material is shut down, there are many pieces. You all have heard me in the past talk about a Rubic’s Cube or a jigsaw puzzle. You have all of the pieces in front of you; you’ve got to find a way for them to fit together and just click in in the right way. Otherwise, you lose your objectives, whether that's a one-year breakout timeline, or ensuring that in fact you’ve got the transparency measures in place. And so you look at all of those elements -- it becomes an incredibly complex negotiation.
The other thing I've always said is you can get to 98 percent of where you want to go, and you cannot get that last 2 percent that makes the deal work. And so one of the things that happened over the last days, because we knew we were coming down to March 31st, because there was a lot of pressure on everyone, was to -- we had a lot of up and down moments. We had a moment of hope, and about an hour later you wondered whether you were going to be getting on an airplane the next moment.
There’s a lot of brinkmanship that everybody plays at this point in a negotiation. This effort has been going on for over 12 years in one form or another. As I've also said, if it was easy it would have happened already. So people get tense. People do get exhausted. That plays into it. We're getting messages from Washington; my partners are getting messages from around the world; Iran is obviously getting messages from Tehran.
It relates somewhat to your first question, Carol, which is that we do understand that our partners in the region, the Gulf countries and of course, our close friend and ally, Israel, have very profound concerns about Iran’s policies in the region in support of terrorism, its destabilizing activities. And I think the President wants to make very clear in his engagement, including at the summit with the GCC countries, that we have the commitment of the security of our partners and we're going to be discussing with them ways that we can reaffirm that commitment.
He will be speaking to Prime Minister Netanyahu today. And while of course, they’ve publicly differed on this negotiation, and before, the finalization of the Joint Plan of Action in November of 2013, the security commitment to Israel is ironclad. And so he'll also be discussing not just the deal but how do we continue to enhance our security cooperation as the new Israeli government is formed.
He’s speaking to the leaders of Congress today, and he'll, I'm sure, be speaking to additional foreign counterparts going forward.
So, look, there’s no foreign policy issue that he’s spent more time on in terms of over the last several weeks. I'd say over the course of his presidency other than the war in Afghanistan and terrorism, Iran is an issue that he’s spent more time on than any other issue. The first negotiation that he had on this started in 2009, so he’s very familiar with the Iranian nuclear program and all the different elements. So, again, he approaches it from that perspective.
On your first question, I'll leave it to my counterparts. The only thing I'd just say is that we recognize we have a framework that lays out what the parameters of a deal will be. That's hugely important because we know what the objectives are; we know what has been agreed to that can lead to an implementation of a deal. But there are very important technical details that have to be filled in between now and the end of June.
It took extraordinary political will to get to where we are today and it will take more political will from all the parties to close this out by the end of June. So we operate under the principle that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed in terms of the details. And there certainly will be more negotiations to come.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add a couple of other elements. Obviously the context in which this is happening in terms of events in the world doesn’t enter the room, necessarily, but certainly shapes the environment for these negotiations. And so there were times when you all asked me when we were first imposing sanctions on Russia because of Ukraine whether, in fact -- how did things go with my Russian counterpart. And actually we stayed very focused in the negotiating room. And that has been true at other points of stress or tension with our other partners.
And likewise, as my colleague was pointing out, the calls of reassurance and connection that the President was making, particularly into the Gulf today, concerns about what’s happening more broadly that Secretary Kerry spoke to in his remarks this evening, most definitely, although they don't come into the negotiating room per se, they do set a context. And events can obviously threaten a negotiation. We've been fortunate to be able to keep it outside, but there is no doubt, and we've said in the margins of these meetings there is talk about what is going on, and the concern, the anxiety, the pressure that that creates legitimately about what we're doing, how we're doing it, and what the results are going to be.
I would also say that we all tend to think of Iran as a sort of one-person country, that whatever the Supreme Leader says goes. Actually, Iran has politics -- not quite like our politics, but they have politics. They have hard-liners, they have people who want to see the deal gone. They have the IRGC force interests that has probably done pretty well during the sanctions regime. They have people who have made money because of the sanctions regime on the black market. They have the politics of their people who would like to be able to afford things and have a future for their kids. And those politics come into the negotiating space that Iran has, just as our politics --which are quite different and obviously transparent and open and democratic -- in ways every single day.
Sometimes they get used tactically and may not be quite what we're told they are. But there is no doubt that Javad Zarif will have to sell this deal just like we will. And his task is not simple and a given, nor is ours. This is very complicated. A lot of this is hard to talk about to the American people. Obviously, I thought the President and the Secretary did a terrific job beginning that conversation -- or continuing, actually, continuing that conversation with the American people. But this is tough stuff to put your mind around, and most people just want to make sure that they stay safe.
So that's what they’re looking at. That's what we're looking at here. That is what the President is looking at.
Q How soon will sanctions against Iran be lifted?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, sanctions don't get lifted -- let me let my colleagues take up that question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think one of the things Secretary Kerry actually said today in his press conference -- one of the core principles of sanctions we will be working out as we proceed through the coming months is kind of the scheduling. But the main principle is that we'll be matching our sanctions with the completion of all of Iran’s major nuclear steps. So, in other words, like the Secretary said, they can do it as fast as they want, and it's in fact in our interests if they do it as fast as they can and get their breakout timeline extended as quickly as possible.
We could, of course, respond just as quickly and provide sanctions relief. But the real important thing is that we link it up to the major components that make out their breakout timeline.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The scheme on the U.S. sanctions side is exactly as my colleague was describing where we've been provided with guidance from the start that sanctions relief would have to be proportionate and only upon verified steps by the Iranians -- that the relief would only come when the steps that they had taken were commensurate with the relief that we were offering and that it be reversible.
Those have been our principles from the start and those have been fully held up in the framework. So what we're going to see in the coming weeks and months after the details are worked out is steps by Iran to be confirmed by the IAEA and sanctions relief coming upon the heels of that.
MS. MEEHAN: Thank you very much, everyone, for doing this call. I know the team out in Switzerland is quite exhausted, so thanks for bearing with us. This concludes the call. As a reminder, this was on background attributable to senior administration officials.
Thanks, and have a great night.