The United States would be willing to consider allowing Iran some uranium enrichment in a final nuclear deal, the country’s lead negotiator said Wednesday.
Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, made the comments in an interview with PBS. They follow comments by a senior Obama administration official who told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday that the White House is examining ways to enable Iran to have its own “domestic” uranium enrichment program.
Sherman told PBS that while the agreement reached with Iran in Geneva stops all of its enrichment over 5 percent even at this stage, “the fact remains that we have also said in this agreement that when we get to a comprehensive agreement, we would consider a limited, modest enrichment program, if it is attached to real, practical needs and if, in fact, they agree to all the monitoring and all of the intrusive verification that is needed on limiting the scope, the capacity of the stockpiles and everything that they do.”
She noted that the interim agreement stipulates that there will be daily inspections at the Fordow and Natanz enrichment facilities and monthly access to the plutonium reactor in Arak.
“That will help us to make sure that they cannot divert things, they cannot have a covert program. And it will give us great insight into what they are doing. These are all firsts that we have never had before,” she added, praising the interim agreement.
A final agreement, said Sherman, would include “a lot of dismantling of their infrastructure” and would likely entail a demand that Iran dismantle the Arak reactor.
“Quite frankly, we're not quite sure what you need a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor, which is what Arak is, for any civilian peaceful purpose,” she said.
“And at the end of the day, what is critical here is that the international community and the United States of America must have full confidence that Iran truly has a peaceful program.”
Sherman reiterated the Obama administration’s view that passing new sanctions on Iran at this time would not be the right step to take. Senators have said they intend to pass new sanctions on Iran despite the deal and are reportedly working on a new sanctions bill they hope to pass before the end of December.
“It is, in fact, the sanctions regime that is supported internationally through UN Security Council resolutions, U.S. actions, both in the Congress and through the executive branch by the president, and by the European Union and other nations, that has brought Iran to the table, because they are looking for sanctions relief,” she said.
“So I understand why the Congress believes that more sanctions can only be better. I agree up to a point, because that's what brought them to the table. But, in fact, sanctions were meant to change the strategic calculus of Iran to come to that negotiating table. Now we have to test that resolve to get to an agreement.”
Sherman continued, saying that “any more sanctions at this moment by the U.S. Congress would undermine the agreement, which calls for a pause by everybody in that regard, and, in fact, might give them an excuse to depart from the agreement that's been made.”
She added, “If we cannot get the kinds of agreement we need, the kinds of limitations we need, then there will not be an agreement and we will revert to where we are with these sanctions, additional sanctions, and the UN Security Council resolutions which are quite critical and must be addressed before any final agreement is reached.”
Her comments come a day after the White House warned Congress that passing new sanctions, even with a delayed launch date, would give Iran an excuse to undermine the interim nuclear deal reached in Geneva.
White House spokesman Jay Carney also claimed that the passage of new U.S. sanctions would threaten the unity of the international coalition that has leveled punishing sanctions on Tehran.
In the PBS interview, Sherman played down the recent disagreements between the United States and Israel over the deal with Iran.
“We talk to the Israelis all of the time, as we do to all of our partners and allies, including in the Gulf, who also have a lot of interest in what is happening here because they care about what is happening in the region and about strategic geopolitical consequences regarding Iran,” she said.
“But on the nuclear deal, Israel, the United States and all the Gulf states share the same objective: Iran will not, cannot, shouldn't have a nuclear weapon. The president has been very clear that he will stop that from happening. So we agree on the objective. Tactically, we may disagree from time to time,” added Sherman.