The alternatives to an international accord preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons are “quite terrible,” the chief U.S. negotiator in talks with Iran said.
Even so, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said today, the U.S. won’t accept “a bad deal or even a half-bad deal” to avoid failure.
Sherman said in Washington that she can’t predict the outcome of the negotiations as they head toward a Nov. 24 deadline with six nations and Iran still jockeying over constraints on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities and the terms for lifting economic sanctions.
U.S. lawmakers on key committees are preparing legislation to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran if there’s no deal by that date, and Iran’s interim commitment to curtail uranium-enrichment would expire with the end of the negotiations. Barring an agreement to extend the talks for a second time, the stage would be set for events that could lead to military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the U.S. or Israel.
“There’s no question that, if everything goes away, escalation will be the name of the game on all sides, and none of that is good,” Sherman said at a conference on Iran held in Washington by Syracuse University’s Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. “It’s why I say the stakes are high.”
Sherman said the world powers, China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., have offered negotiating measures that would ensure that “Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon, that all the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down” in a verifiable manner.
“We’re striving toward that objective because the alternatives are quite terrible,” she said.
The deal would provide for the the U.S. and other nations to “suspend and then lift” nuclear-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic, she said.
Iran has been seeking a complete lifting of sanctions, which would be difficult to reimpose if Iran were caught cheating on the deal.
The interim accord during the talks has constrained Iran’s nuclear activities and opened its facilities to increased international monitoring in return for limited sanctions relief, Sherman said.
“More extensive relief will come when, and only when, we are able to arrive at a comprehensive deal that addresses the concerns of the world community,” she said. “Such a plan, if fully implemented, would give confidence that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful and would enable the Iranian people to look forward to a much brighter future.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concern that the U.S. may accept a “bad deal” that would leave Iran with the ability to develop and produce nuclear weapons quickly.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an interview with Charlie Rose on Oct. 20 that Iran might be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a weapon in less than a year, which would cross Israel’s “red line” for military action.
He said Israel wants a deal that prevents Iran from retaining any uranium enrichment capability, although the U.S. and the other world powers have been prepared to let Iran retain a limited number of working uranium-enrichment centrifuges under international safeguards.
“We are afraid that we might have a bad deal,” Ya’alon said. “And we claim that no deal is better than a bad deal.”
An agreement appears unlikely by the Nov. 24 deadline, meaning an extension of the interim agreement may be needed to press Iran for more concessions, the French ambassador to Washington said Oct. 23..
Iran wants “sanctions lifted immediately,” while negotiators for six international powers want an “incremental and reversible suspension” of economic penalties, based on Iran’s compliance with limits on its nuclear activities, Gerard Araud, who served as France’s chief nuclear negotiator with Iran from 2006 to 2009, said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.
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