CAPITOL HILL - An Obama administration official has declined to commit to an absolute end date for nuclear negotiations with Iran, but says the United States remains committed to a verifiable accord preventing Tehran from building an atomic weapon.
In the Senate, lawmakers of both parties voiced strong skepticism about international talks with Iran that have been extended to November.
At a hearing Tuesday, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, pressed for assurances that negotiations with Iran will not be extended once again.
“Is the administration in agreement that November 24 is the end of these negotiations - there will be no more extensions - that we either reach an agreement by that date or this negotiation is over?" he asked.
State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said she could not predict what would happen at the end of the negotiating period.
“Our intent is absolutely to end this November 24 in one direction or another. What I can say to you is that we will consult Congress along the way,” she said.
Corker also sought assurances the administration would not weaken or waive any portion of U.S. sanctions against Iran without congressional approval.
Sherman would only commit to ample communication between the White House and lawmakers.
“You will not be surprised by reading in newspapers about decisions or judgments that we have made,” she said.
Senators of both parties said they fear Iran will drag out negotiations and ultimately achieve meaningful sanctions relief without actually dismantling its nuclear weapons-building capacity. The committee’s chairman, Democrat Robert Menendez, said he hopes talks succeed, but added:
“The Iranians have gotten us to a point that, by defying the international community, we now accept things we never would have thought acceptable: levels of [[nuclear]] enrichment, changing their [nuclear] facility, not closing their facility,” he said.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson was more blunt. He said, “Why do we continue to pretend publicly that Iran will enter some agreement where it will be [[limit itself to]] a peaceful nuclear program? That will never happen. Why to we delude ourselves?”
The State Department’s Wendy Sherman disputed the senator’s presumption, saying,“What we are trying to do is cut off every pathway to a nuclear weapon. This is about verification. This is about monitoring. This is about inspections. So this is not about trust, senator.”
Also testifying was Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen, who said Iran’s economy remains heavily burdened by international sanctions despite limited relief implemented at the onset of the talks.