(Update: Adds comment from Ryan Costello of the National Iranian American Council)
(CNSNews.com) – Responding to a question about how the administration will explain its shifting statements on key elements of an Iran nuclear deal, a senior U.S. official at the talks in Vienna said that what Americans will ultimately “care about” will be the quality of the overall final agreement.
The official, who spoke on background, was asked the question after telling reporters Monday that the Iranians will not be expected to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to “every military site” since that would not be “appropriate,” and the United States would never agree to such access to every military site in the U.S.
If, however, “the IAEA believes that it needs access and has a reason for that access, then we have a process to ensure that that is given,” the official said.
Asked how soon the inspectors would get that access in such circumstances, the official said, “I’m not going to talk about time frames.”
(Last May French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius disclosed that Iranian negotiators were pressing to be given 24 days’ notice ahead of any inspection.)
A reporter noted that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who has a key role in the negotiations, has spoken of an expectation of “anytime, anywhere access.”
“Secretary Moniz has used the term ‘anytime, anywhere access,’ which doesn’t really comport with what the IAEA does,” the reporter said. “How are you going to explain all that when people in Washington see that as a climb-down on statement after statement?”
The official replied that what will matter in the end is if a final agreement is reached that “meets the president’s objective.”
“If it does that, we will all be able to go out and sell it, convince the American people that it was the right thing to do, that in fact we have a pathway to ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and its program is exclusively peaceful. So the best tool we will have is the quality of this agreement.”
Pressed on the issue of the changing statements over time, the official said, “I think what I would say to people is, at the end of the day, have we accomplished the job?”
“Have we made it real that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon? And that we’ve shut down the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon and that we have a long-term, durable way to know that in fact their program is exclusively peaceful in a durable, verifiable, long-term manner. And if we can answer those questions, I think that’s what people will care about.”
‘Stop explaining Iran’s position’
A self-imposed deadline for a final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – passed overnight Tuesday, with negotiators voicing hope that it will be concluded within “days.” Measures put in place under a Nov. 2013 interim agreement have been formally extended until July 7.
It is meant to be based on a framework understanding announced last April 2, which according to the White House at the time included an agreement that Iran must allow IAEA inspectors access to any locations of suspected illicit nuclear activity, “anywhere in the country.”
But Iranian leaders have on numerous occasions since April 2 insisted military sites will be off-limits.
Some of the most troubling military-related nuclear activity Iran is suspected to have carried out in the past is believed to have taken place at military sites, rather than at obvious nuclear facilities.
At Parchin, a military site near Tehran, the IAEA suspects testing of high explosive components for a nuclear weapon has been carried out. Iran has refused to allow IAEA inspectors to examine the site.
The senior administration official said on Monday: “The entry point isn’t we must be able to get into every military site, because the United States of America wouldn’t allow anybody to get into every military site. So that’s not appropriate. There are conventional military purposes; there are military secrets that any country has that they’re not willing to share with other people.”
The official’s comments drew sharp reactions back in Washington, with some critics seeing them as equating Iran and the U.S.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday, “it’s beyond me why our negotiators are equating Iran’s illicit nuclear program – still subject to many U.N. Security Council Resolutions demanding that it be halted – with the United States.”
“Of course, the U.S. is a recognized nuclear-weapon state under the Non-Proliferation Treaty – subject to different access standards – Iran is not. Surely U.S. negotiators recognize this difference.”
“It’s logical that any deal with a nuclear pariah and state sponsor of terrorism must require exceptional access for international inspectors,” Royce said. “Iran cheated more than others, so it should have to do more than others to open up. Stop explaining Iran’s position, and certainly don’t do it by comparing Iran with the U.S. in any way, shape, or form.”
Citing the U.S. official’s statement, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol wrote, “Think about that. The American official argues that Iran – a rogue regime that sponsors terror and that has lied about its nuclear program, and that is under sanctions precisely because it has proved time and again it can't be trusted – should be held to the same standards as the U.S. Amazing.”
“It turns out the left’s old doctrine of moral equivalence between the Soviet Union and the U.S. has been replaced by a doctrine of moral equivalence between Iran and the U.S.”
Ryan Costello, a policy fellow at the National Iranian American Council, which strongly supports the nuclear negotiations, says “anytime, anywhere” access is unnecessary.
“Anytime, anywhere access is an overly broad metric entirely divorced from what is needed, which is timely, managed access to any sites suspected of harboring covert nuclear activities,” he said on Wednesday.
“A good nuclear deal will include the latter via implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol,” Costello said. “To reject a deal based on an unnecessary and unattainable benchmark would be the height of recklessness, leading to diminished inspections at nuclear sites and no access to those suspected of harboring covert activities.”