The White House pushed back Friday against declarations from Iran's leaders that any nuclear deal must include an immediate lifting of sanctions, indicating President Barack Obama will walk away from negotiations unless sanctions are removed over time.
- Ayatollah Khamenei Calls Nuclear Framework Agreement Non-binding
- Israel, Beware of Obama's Iran Deal
- U.S., Israel Need to Put Aside Mutual Suspicions Over Iran Deal
Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes portrayed the tough stance by Supreme Leader Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani as a reflection of internal pressures from Iran hardliners and said the development doesn't mean a final agreement is unattainable. But Rhodes pointed out the framework agreement that Iran and the six powers reached last week to curb Tehran's nuclear activities allows for sanctions to be removed over time, not at once.
"It's very clear and understood that sanctions relief will be phased," Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama in Panama for the Summit of the Americas. "The fact of the matter is, we have framework. The president has said if the details don't bear out, we won't have a deal."
In his first comments on the framework, Khamenei told a gathering of religious poets on Thursday that he "is neither for nor against" it. But he said the punitive "sanctions should be lifted completely, on the very day of the deal." He said because the agreement was only the framework and not the accord itself, "nothing has been done yet."
The deadline for a final deal is June 30.
Rouhani, a relative moderate, sent the same message during a ceremony Thursday marking Iran's nuclear technology day, which celebrates the country's atomic achievements.
"We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal," Rouhani said.
Rhodes said Khamenei and Rouhani had to deal with internal politics, but that their statements should not be taken as a test of what the final deal will look like.
"They have their own hardliners who are skeptical of this deal," Rhodes said. "The test of whether or not that framework can be memorialized is not a comment on any given day by an Iranian leader, the test will be if by the end of June we have a document."
The framework says sanctions put in place over Iran's nuclear program will be suspended once international monitors verify that Tehran is abiding by the limitations spelled out in the agreement. Rhodes said the International Atomic Energy Agency will have to inspect military sites.
An essential part of the deal, he said, is "having the IAEA ability to inspect suspicious sites, no matter where they are."
The West has long feared Iran's nuclear program could allow it to build an atomic bomb and that Tehran has used uranium enrichment — the key point of contention in the negotiations — to pursue nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and cancer treatment.