Geneva Talks |

U.S. Won't Ease Pressure Until Iran Takes Significant Steps to Halt Nuclear Program

In letter to Obama, 10 senators suggest that if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment, Washington should suspend implementation of new sanctions; Negotiations about Iran's nuclear program to start in Geneva Tuesday.

Barak Ravid
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Barak Ravid

GENEVA - U.S. pressure on Iran will continue until the latter has implemented significant steps to halt its nuclear program, senior officials in the Obama administration stressed Monday, on the eve of talks between world powers and the Islamic Republic in Geneva.

A senior American official said any relief of sanctions would depend on the character and extent of the Iranian steps, pointing out that it was the international pressure itself that led Iran to the negotiating table.

"No one should expect a breakthrough overnight," the official said. Any potential sanctions relief, the official said, would be "targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table."

Iran must deliver if it wants to receive, the official added.

Contrary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warning that any easing of sanctions would lead to a total collapse in efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program, the U.S. official said the administration has been clear in its plan for limited action and did not expect it to affect the sanctions.

The six world powers – U.S., Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France – arrived in Geneva on Monday European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the talks on behalf of the powers.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also arrived in Geneva on Monday, with a delegation of no fewer than 40 journalists from his country, many of them affiliated with the reformist camp.

The negotiating teams of the six powers spent the majority of the day in coordination meeting ahead of the talks, which are set to begin on Tuesday at 10:30 A.M. (Israel time).

Ashton and Zarif met Monday evening for the first time at the Iranian envoy's residence in Geneva, during which the Iranian foreign minister presented his European counterpart with the main points of Tehran's proposal.

Zarif told reporters on his flight to Geneva that he does not believe any agreements will be reached during this round of talks, estimating that the initial discussion of the proposal would take one two months. He said he hoped an agreement could be reached within a year.

The U.S. and representative of the other world powers are waiting to hear the offer Zarif has promised to propose. The representatives are coming into the talks with positive intentions, but are interesting in hearing a significant proposal.

A senior American official said that the U.S. and the rest of the powers are expecting the Iranian offer to include clear answers and proposals for specific steps on the following issues: the rate of uranium enrichment, the extent of the enrichment, the future of the stockpiled of the uranium already enriched by Iran, increased transparency about its nuclear program, and the future of activity at the heavy water reactor in Arak, where plutonium could be created for developing a nuclear bomb.

Senators to Obama: Suspend sanctions if Tehran takes significant steps

Ten Democratic and Republican U.S. senators said on Monday they were open to suspending the implementation of new sanctions on Iran, but only if Tehran takes significant steps to slow its nuclear program.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, the 10 senators said the United States and other countries should consider a "suspension-for-suspension" initial agreement, in which Iran would suspend uranium enrichment and Washington would suspend the implementation of new sanctions.

However, Iran is not expected to offer to suspend enrichment during the talks.

The letter, which was sent to Obama on Friday and released on Monday, was written by six Democrats and four Republicans. They said they supported the negotiations but wanted confidence-building actions from Iran before they would support backing away from a new set of even stricter sanctions on Iran now making their way through Congress.

The senators said they wanted Tehran's full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment of promises under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear weapons program, including immediate suspension of all enrichment.

"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," they said.

They also reaffirmed that "a credible military threat" remains on the table and said current sanctions must be maintained aggressively.

The senators signing the letter included Democrats Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Charles Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, as well as Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of their party's most influential foreign policy voices.

Iran's President Hassan Rohani walks with delegates after speaking in a High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament during the 68th United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 26, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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