The Obama administration said Monday it's ready to “quickly” lift sanctions on Iran if the country answers the international community's concerns about its nuclear program.
The comments on the eve of new negotiations in Geneva are at odds with the position of many lawmakers of both parties in Congress, who want to increase — not decrease — the pressure on Iran.
“We are quite ready to move,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the negotiations. “If they’re ready to go, we are ready to go. But it depends on what they put on the table.”
“I think that the core sanctions architecture that not only the United States but the entire international community has put in place ... all can be addressed if Iran addresses all of our concerns and all of their obligations and responsibilities under the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the official continued.
Asked if that meant that the administration is ready to move "quickly" if Iran does, the official answered: "Yes."
"The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program," the letter said. "Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner."
The administration cautioned not to expect an immediate resolution from the new round of talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
“No one should expect a breakthrough overnight,” a senior administration official said. “These issues are too complicated, and, as the president said, the history of mistrust is very deep. But we have to start somewhere. We hope we can start here.”
The administration said it has not yet seen Iran's latest proposal. Officials would not rule out working with a proposal that differs from the one put forth by the P5+ 1 at Almaty, Kazakhstan, in April and rejected by Iran.
“If the Iranians come with a proposal that builds on that and expands on what Iran wants, of course we will work with that,” a senior administration official said. “We are open to Iran’s ideas about how to proceed forward. And we will take both our proposal, their ideas, and see if we can move this process ahead.”
The official suggested Iran's comments Sunday rejecting western demands that it ship its uranium out of the country for further processing might not be a deal breaker.
“We’ll see,” the official said. “We want to make sure, as I said, that we deal with stockpiles. There are a variety of ways that do that. But we have to do it in a way that gives the international community confidence. Obviously it will be a subject for discussion and negotiation. But it is a very, very important issue.”
Iran's ability to enrich uranium is a red line for Israel and many U.S. lawmakers, who worry that Iran is lying about its intentions and would be able to quickly convert enriched uranium into a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.
Here's the full text of the letter:
October 11, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As representatives of the P5+1 and the Iranian government prepare to enter another round of negotiations to verifiably end Iran’s nuclear weapon program, we reiterate the four strategic elements articulated by 76 Senators to you on August 2, 2013 necessary to achieve resolution of the nuclear issue: (1) an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, (2) a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, (3) the maintenance and toughening of sanctions, and (4) a convincing threat of the use of force.
We support your efforts to explore a diplomatic opening, but we believe that the true test of Iranian sincerity is a willingness to match rhetoric with actions. The critical test will be Iran’s proposal to the P5+1 this week in Geneva. Iran’s first confidence-building action should be full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and implementation of all Resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to include immediate suspension of all enrichment activity. If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by the Congress. In short, the U.S. should consider, with the other members of the P5+1, a “suspension for suspension” initial agreement - in which Iran suspends enrichment and the U.S. suspends the implementation of new sanctions.
For the P5+1 states, such an agreement would ease concerns that Iran is using the talks as a subterfuge while its centrifuges spin and for Iran it would suspend critical additional sanctions on its key economic sectors.
The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner. However, at this time, we reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively, and call on you to increase pressure through sanctions already in place.
A nuclear weapons capable Iran threatens regional stability and international security and directly threatens U.S. national security interests. As we previously cautioned, Iran has historically used negotiations to affect progress on its nuclear weapons program. We must continue to realistically evaluate Iranian intentions, and we reiterate that the centrifuges cannot be allowed to continue spinning.
We reject Iranian statements that Iran should be able to continue enrichment in its own territory. Indeed, this is not a prerequisite for a peaceful nuclear energy program. Countries from Canada, to Mexico and South Africa benefit from peaceful nuclear energy programs, without indigenous enrichment programs. Iran does have a right to a peaceful nuclear energy program; it does not have a right to enrichment.
We remind you that the U.S. Department of State has characterized Iran as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism” and to be sure, verifiable dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear weapons program will not resolve the Iranian government’s deplorable abuse of basic human rights, denial of basic civil freedoms, or its ongoing activities that seek to destabilize the region.
We remain hopeful that talks next week in Geneva lead to concrete Iranian actions to prove to the world that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapons capability. However, if Iranian actions fail to match the rhetorical reassurances of the last two weeks, we are prepared to move forward with new sanctions to increase pressure on the government in Tehran.
Sen. Robert Menendez
Sen. Lindsey Graham
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
Sen. Roy Blunt
Sen. Patty Murray
Sen. John McCain
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski
Sen. Kelly Ayotte
Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Sen. Christopher A. Coons
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