Senate letter urges Obama to toughen demands on Iran nuclear deal

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Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Joseph Lieberman (Indep.-Conn.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) are circulating a letter to fellow members that urges President Obama not to offer Iran any sort of concessions or sanctions relief if and until a comprehensive nuclear deal is reached. It also expresses skepticism about any nuclear deal that would allow Iran to maintain enrichment capabilities, although it doesn’t explicitly rule it out.

“First, we strongly believe there should be absolutely no diminution of pressure on the Iranians until the totality of their nuclear problem has been addressed,” the draft letter circulated to other Senators on Thursday said. “The time for limited confidence building measures is over.”

“We remain very skeptical of any proposal that would allow the current Iranian government to possess an enrichment capability in any form, given its long track record of deceptive and illicit conduct,” the letter also states. “We also believe that, at an absolute minimum, a successful resolution of the Iranian nuclear file must include the complete closure of the Fordow facility; full cooperation by Iran with the IAEA … and an extremely intrusive and comprehensive inspection regime for the foreseeable future.“

The letter also calls on President Obama to reiterate his readiness to undertake military action if Iran does not desist.

The Senate offices circulating the letter set a deadline of December 13th for signatures. That is the date that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to send a team to Iran for further consultations.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington Thursday, said the agency has a robust dialogue with Iran, but is seeking concrete results in terms of its requests for access to sites, people and information.

“We did not say Iran has nuclear weapons. We did not say it has made a decision to make nuclear weapons,” Amano said. “We have credible information that Iran has engaged in activities relevant to nuclear weapons… Without clarifying these issues,” the IAEA can’t give assurances that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes, the IAEA chief said. Continue reading

EU’s Ashton briefs Israeli leaders on Iran negotiations

Just a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a unity government with opposition Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli leader invited the Iranian-born Mofaz to join him at a meeting Wednesday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Ashton was in Jerusalem for an exchange of views with Israeli leaders on a range of issues, chiefly the Iran nuclear negotiations, which got underway in Istanbul last month, and continue May 23 in Baghdad.

On Iran, Ashton made clear that there is a responsibility and an opportunity to push ahead with talks, a source described. The chief international negotiator has a mandate from the international community to proceed down a diplomatic route, but also offered Israel assurances that Europe is not naive about Iran and has no plans to lift sanctions unless Iran delivers concrete actions.

“Iran needs to come to the table with concrete proposals for how it can rebuild the trust of the international community,” the diplomat said. “If anybody is worried that the E3+3 is going to get carried away with process, or the idea of talks for talk’s sake, and that the EU will dismantle the sanctions immediately, should take heart.”

“Concrete steps by Iran will [be] needed for concrete reciprocal steps to be taken by the international community,” he added. “Crucially, there is no plan to lift sanctions without the Iranian side offering a discussion about concrete issues.”

Also joining the meeting from the Israeli cabinet were Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “Netanyahu and his senior ministers made clear to Ashton during the meeting that the world powers must demand that Iran take tangible steps to halt uranium enrichment, and not simply make do with declarations,” Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reports. Continue reading