By Jeremy Herb
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Wednesday that the United States needs to use “hard-nosed diplomacy” with Iran to stop Tehran from making “a mad dash” to nuclear weapons.
“To have any prospect of success, we need an approach that gives diplomatic engagement space to breathe, without allowing Iran to play for time and drag us into a drawn-out process,” Kerry said at a Wednesday hearing on Iran.
Talk of military action against Iran to stop its nuclear program has increased in recent weeks, as Israel has said sanctions are not working and Iran has continued to push forward with its nuclear program.
The hearing’s witnesses, including retired Gen. James Cartwright, former Joint Chiefs vice chairman, and Ambassador Tom Pickering, former undersecretary of State, said there was reason for caution about using military force against Iran.
Pickering said that military action against Iran could drive the country to build a nuclear weapon, which it has not yet decided to do.
Cartwright said that military force against Iran must remain an option, as President Obama has said it is, but he added that the Iranians remain several stages away from being able to develop a nuclear weapon and delivery system.
The Iranians are set to meet with the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany for a new round of nuclear talks in April.
Kerry said that one high-level meeting was unlikely to “achieve a dramatic breakthrough.” He said it would be difficult to find a solution for both sides that gives the international community confidence Iran “neither has the capacity nor the desire to make a mad dash to nuclear weapons.”
Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said Wednesday the United States needed to give Iran a plain choice with sanctions between pursuing its nuclear weapons program or maintaining its economic viability.
The April negotiations are coming as both the United States and European Union have imposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Congress has continued to look at further sanctions for Iran, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a recent visit to the United States that time is running short for sanctions to work.
Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, while the United States and its allies suspect Iran is looking to build a nuclear weapon.
Pickering said that past talks suffered because they tended to be a “series of one-night stands,” where one side gave an offer and the other rejected it.
He said that the sanctions could be effective against Iran if they also give Tehran a door to compromise. He suggested a proposal where Iran stops producing uranium at 20 percent enrichment in exchange for fuel that could make the medical isotopes which Iran says the uranium is for.