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Experts: Iran’s Positions Complicate Completion of Nuclear Pact


FILE - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., outlines his bipartisan bill requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement that President Barack Obama reaches with Iran, at the Capitol in Washington, March 2015.

International security experts agreed Thursday in a U.S. Senate committee hearing that Iran’s positions on nuclear talks are making a deal difficult to reach.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony as nuclear talks in Vienna moved toward a June 30 deadline.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, told the panel that Iran does not need a uranium enrichment agreement at all.

However, Albright said, any nuclear deal with Iran presented to Congress for approval should contain “a detailed description of the motivation, intent and scope of the agreement and key technical and policy interpretations of major provisions.”

Among other considerations, Albright specified terminology that would define violations, both material and incremental; national and international mechanisms to determine a violation; a course of remediation; consequences for noncompliance; and procedures for addressing possible Iranian unwillingness to comply.

Unlimited Access

To that end, Albright said, the International Atomic Energy Agency should have “anytime” and “anywhere” access to all relevant sites, facilities, material, equipment, people and documents in Iran, which are not addressed in the framework agreement reached earlier.

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said “the success of any arms control agreement hinges on whether it can permanently arrest the momentum toward proliferation of dangerous technologies.”

Takeyh outlined the characteristics of an acceptable agreement, which he said would include reinstatement of original principles that long guided U.S. policy, including that Iran has to satisfy the international community that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

Takeyh also said “anywhere, anytime” inspections must be implemented. He told the committee that Iran’s ballistic missiles, which he said are an important aspect of its nuclear weapons program, have to be part of the agreement.

Jim Walsh, a research associate at the Securities Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that “a nuclear agreement with Iran, should it be concluded, could represent a pivotal moment for American nonproliferation policy, if not for the nuclear age.”

In addition to “anywhere, anytime” inspections, Walsh said, there should be a number of limitations to Iran’s nuclear activity.

Walsh said restrictions should include limits on the level of enrichment, on the number and types of centrifuges, on the size and composition of the uranium stockpile, and on the reprocessing of nuclear materials.

All three experts provided the Foreign Relations Committee with detailed written statements titled “Evaluating Key Components of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran,” as per the requirements of Thursday’s hearing.

Senators' Concerns

Earlier this week, U.S. lawmakers sharpened warnings against a "weak" nuclear agreement with Iran. Several said they didn't want to see any sanctions lifted before Tehran begins complying with a deal, and they wanted a tough verification regime allowing the "anytime, anywhere" inspections.

They also said they wanted Tehran to reveal past military dimensions of its nuclear program, particularly after Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to soften the U.S. stance last week by saying Iran would not be pressed on this point.

"I have become more and more concerned with the direction of these negotiations and the potential red lines that may be crossed," Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told a hearing Wednesday.

Corker authored a bill giving Congress the right to approve or disapprove any final deal that emerges from talks between six major powers and Iran. Kerry travels to Vienna on Friday for the latest round. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law last month after the White House failed to persuade enough Democrats not to join Republicans in demanding a say.

Pressure from Groups

As the deal deadline nears, lawmakers are coming under pressure not to support an agreement that gives much ground to Tehran.

AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby, has been campaigning hard in Congress on its concerns that any agreement could be "fundamentally flawed." J Street, a more moderate pro-Israel group, has launched its own campaign rebutting arguments made by opponents of a deal.

Several other groups, including United Against a Nuclear Iran, and the American Security Initiative, founded by three ex-senators, are spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns urging lawmakers to take a hard line.

"There is tremendous skepticism about this deal ... and some Democrats from heavily pro-Israel communities are going to have a tough time with this," Republican Senator John McCain said.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.