Flashback: Top US Negotiator Said Sanctions Won’t be Lifted Until Iran Accounts for Past Actions

By Patrick Goodenough | June 17, 2015 | 9:56 PM EDT

Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman, chats with Secretary of State John Kerry during a break in the Iran nuclear talks, in Lausanne, Switzerland on March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Laurent Gillieron/Keystone)

(CNSNews.com) – On Feb. 2 last year, Secretary of State John Kerry’s top nuclear negotiator told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iran would be required to “come clean on its past [military-related nuclear] actions as part of any comprehensive agreement” on its nuclear program.

“[A]ll the sanctions on over 600 individuals and entities targeted for supporting Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, will remain in effect until those concerns are addressed,” undersecretary of state Wendy Sherman said.

On Tuesday, Kerry was asked during a press briefing whether concerns about Iran’s past actions relating to suspected nuclear weapons work – so-called “possible military dimensions” of PMDs – needed to be “fully resolved” before sanctions were eased or lifted.

His reply suggested a shift in the administration’s position on past PMD disclosure: “The possible military dimensions, frankly, gets distorted a little bit in some of the discussions, in that we’re not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did … what we’re concerned about is going forward.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby spent more than 20 minutes of his 65 minute-long daily press briefing Wednesday disputing the widely-reported notion that Kerry’s remarks a day earlier marked a change in policy or concession to Iran, calling that “absolutely, completely false.”

“He didn’t say that past or present possible military dimensions of their program don’t matter. Of course they matter,” Kirby said.

“Sanctions lifting is only going to occur as Iran takes agreed nuclear steps. Some of those steps are the steps that are being negotiated now. But sanctions relief is only going to occur when those steps have been taken, including addressing possible military dimension.”

Asked whether the issued had to be resolved “as a condition for removing sanctions,” Kirby replied, “I’m not going to get into specific conditions here. But they do have to be resolved. There’s been no change, none.”

When asked whether that applied to all or only some of the sanctions, Kirby demurred.

“Sanctions lifting is only going to occur as Iran meets agreed-to steps, including addressing the concerns IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has over possible military dimensions,” he said.

“But you’re still not addressing the question of whether any sanctions relief can occur prior to the resolution of the PMD issues,” a reporter pressed.

“I’m – I think I’ve answered it as far as I’m going to answer it today, “ Kirby replied.

‘In order to protect Iran’s national pride’

In a hard-hitting letter to Kerry on Monday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) wrote that he was “alarmed” about reports about the erosion of administration positions in the Iran negotiations.

“Only you and those at the table know whether there is any truth to these allegations, and I hope reports indicating potential concessions on inspections and on the full disclosure of Iran’s possible military dimensions (PMDs) are inaccurate,” he said.

“We all are aware of the importance of having a full understanding of Iran’s nuclear program, including PMDs of those activities as part of any agreement. Yet, recently I have heard of a potential cumbersome process where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with no confirmation from Iran, will make PMD determinations about Iran’s nuclear program in order to protect Iran’s national pride, meaning Iran will not have to publicly admit to these activities.”

Corker noted that Iran continues to stymie IAEA efforts to get information Tehran undertook in 2013 to provide.

“By not requiring Iran to explicitly disclose their previous weaponization efforts on the front end of any final agreement,” he told Kerry, “we will likely never know, in a timely fashion, the full extent of Iranian capabilities.”

In a statement provided by his office Wednesday Corker responded sharply to Kerry’s comments.

“It is exactly these kinds of statements from the secretary that cause me to have the concerns I have regarding the direction of the nuclear negotiations,” he said.

“At every juncture, the secretary and his aides seem way too willing to accommodate Iran. From day one, all involved have emphasized the significance of Iran providing a full accounting of its previous weaponization activities, and by not holding firm on this issue, it appears yet another red line will be crossed,” Corker said.

“The stakes for our country and the world are enormously high, and I again urge the administration not to be afraid to walk away if Iran insists on crossing remaining redlines that are essential to a verifiable agreement.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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