In a first official reaction to the emerging deal between Iran and the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, U.S. officials made it clear Tuesday that while the reported agreement was a positive sign, it did not mean Washington intended to let up its pressure on the Islamic Republic over its continued nuclear program.
Referring to the reported IAEA-Iran deal, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "Obviously, we fully support IAEA efforts to try to resolve the outstanding issues," adding that the administration's "understanding is that they are still working on the precise terms."
However, Nuland made it clear that "the announcement of the deal is one thing, but the implementation is what we're going to be looking for, for Iran to truly follow through and provide the access to all of the locations, the documents and the personnel that the IAEA requires in order to determine whether Iran's program is exclusively for peaceful purposes."
She added that the U.S. was "looking for Iran to demonstrate unequivocally that its program is peaceful. There are separate but linked tracks for doing that."
"One is to do what the IAEA needs, to demonstrate it has seen all the locations and all of the documents. The other is to work with the EU three plus three on concrete steps to give more reassurance of the kind that we're seeking," Nuland added.
Nuland said that she didnt think "we see them as part and parcel of the effort that we're looking for on the part of Iran," adding that the Iranian regime needs to provide results on both the IAEA track and the Baghdad talks.
Honing in on the emerging deal, Nuland said that what "the IAEA is involved in is verifying, on behalf of the international community, that the things that Iran is saying are true, are actually true. So in the context of any kind of an understanding that might be reached in the EU three plus three context, you would still want the IAEA to be able to verify the implementation of all of those things."
Also Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney called the IAEA agreement with Iran "a step in the right direction," but said the U.S. would "make judgments about Iran's behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements."
He added that the U.S. would continue to put pressure on Iran and planned to move ahead with sanctions. "We're not at the stage of negotiating what Iran would get in return for fulfillment of its obligations, beyond the general principle, which is they would be able to rejoin the community of nations," he said.
Also commenting on news of an upcoming deal, U.S. President Barack Obama's former senior advisor Dennis Ross, currently a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, indicated that the negotiations taking place are designed to maintain pressure on the Iranians, as opposed to letting it up.
"It sends them a message that they can't play for time - the Iranians shouldn't have any illusions they can do minimum and get maximum in return," he said, adding however that he didn't believe talks in Baghdad mark a "make or break" moment.
"It's unrealistic to see a breakthrough at this point after only two rounds of talks, the process has to be much more continuous", he said, adding, "There has to be an indication on substance or the nature of the process. Since the window of opportunity won't be open forever, the sooner we understand what kind of process we are in, the better."
"Suspension of enrichment is something that stops the clock and provides space and time to tackle the issue of the nuclear program. Another track could be changing the character of the program - having nuclear civil power will require firewalls that will ensure it cannot be translated to nuclear weapons capability."
Ross said the Obama administration's position is not to accept limited enrichment - but he also rejected the notion of the need to provide a clear red line. "One has to be careful about the red lines - because historically others think everything is allowed up to the red line," he said.
He added that the U.S. administration stays in close contact with the Israeli leadership on this matter. "It's no coincidence [Israel's Defense Minister Ehud] Barak came to visit Washington last week. I am sure the goal of this visit was to be a part of this discussion. Israeli positions have some impact on ours and there is no intention to surprise."
Also on Tuesday, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen commended the Senate's approval of Iran sanctions on Monday, echoing the skepticism expressed by the Israeli leadership ahead of the Baghdad meeting.
"I am deeply concerned that the so-called agreement reached between Iran and the IAEA will only be used as yet another stalling tactic to afford the Iranian regime greater time to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities", she said, adding, "It's deja vu all over again."
Ros-Lehtinen said that it had been "ten years since Iran's covert nuclear program was discovered by the IAEA, after decades had gone by when the regime successfully hid its nuclear activities from the world."
"It has been ten years of manipulation by Tehran of international inspections. And for decades, the regime has ignored its international obligations. Yet, the IAEA seems content to give Iran a pass in exchange for yet more empty promises. Fortunately, Congress has not bought into this dangerous and foolhardy approach. I am gratified that the Senate finally passed its Iran sanctions legislation, although I am concerned that the legislation is not strong enough," she added.
U.S., Israel 'on same page' ahead of talks
The Obama administration will dispatch a delegation of senior officials to nuclear talks with Iran that are scheduled to resume on Wednesday in Baghdad, according to well-placed sources in the U.S.
The delegation will coordinate U.S. positions with Israel in the talks, and will also try to allay Israeli concerns about possible compromises that the P5+1 group might be willing to make in the talks with Tehran. This was also one of the objectives of the discussions held Tuesday between a senior delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and several high-ranking administration officials, led by Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden and other officials told the delegation, led by Conference Chairman Richard Stone and its CEO, Malcolm Hoenlein, that the U.S. is in constant contact with its Israeli counterparts in the Defense Ministry and in the Foreign Ministry, and that the U.S. is on the same page with Israel concerning the demands from Tehran.
The Americans, led by Biden, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to prevent Tehran from developing or purchasing a nuclear weapons, although they were vague on their position concerning the prevention of Iranian capability to produce weapons, and they refrained from getting into the details of the how much nuclear enrichment Iran could continue and under what conditions.
Well-placed observers said the administration seeks to lower the volume of Israeli criticism of the negotiations, especially as these havent moved anywhere yet. The delegation and the messages to the Conference delegation are meant to allay Israeli concerns, the sources said.
In addition to the vice president, the Conference delegates met with Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Advisor; Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary of State; Steven Simon, Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council; David Cohen, Undersecretary of Treasury for Terrorism & Financial Intelligence; John Cohen, Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Department of Homeland Security; and Jarrod Bernstein, White House Director of Jewish Outreach.
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