(CNSNews.com) – Iran will never give international inspectors access to its military facilities under a negotiated nuclear accord, the country’s military chief declared at the weekend, underlining the regime’s rejection of what the Obama administration portrays as a core element of a proposed agreement.
“Iranian military officials are not allowed to let the foreigners go through the country’s security-defense shield and fence,” Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, commander of Iran’s armed forces, wrote in a message to Iran’s nuclear negotiators.
Official media quoted him as saying Iran would not allow its military progress to be stopped, under the pretext of nuclear supervision and inspection, alluding to earlier comments by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In Iran’s military hierarchy, Firouzabadi is second only to Khamenei, the commander-in-chief, who has himself already declared military sites off-limits to foreign inspectors.
The semi-official Fars news agency depicted Firouzabadi’s message to the negotiating team as a reiteration of Tehran’s “red lines” in the ongoing talks, heading for a June 30 deadline for a final deal.
Firouzabadi said the U.S. could not be trusted.
He pointed to a White House fact sheet on a “framework agreement” announced at the talks in Switzerland on April 2, and challenged the U.S. interpretation of what had been agreed upon in that framework, calling it “a ploy against Iran’s national security.”
The fact sheet states that Iran must allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors “regular access to all” of its declared nuclear facilities, and must moreover grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or locations of suspected illicit nuclear activity, “anywhere in the country.”
The framework agreement is meant to form the basis of a comprehensive final agreement due for completion by June 30, but Iran and the U.S. disagree over what some of its parameters are, including the key inspection element.
In his April 2 response to the framework understanding, President Obama said Iran had “agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.”
One month into the three-month final negotiating period, the gap between the U.S. and Iran over inspections shows no sign of narrowing.
In his message to the negotiators, Firouzabadi said that IAEA inspectors would not be given any exceptional authority to visit Iranian nuclear sites, beyond those applicable to other countries under Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) rules – again contesting the administration’s depiction of an inspection regime unprecedented in its toughness.
In a speech Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden again emphasized the U.S. stance on inspections, saying that under the proposed agreement Iran will allow “IAEA inspectors to visit not only declared nuclear facilities, but undeclared sites where suspicious, clandestine work is suspected.”
“Folks, let me tell you what this deal would do in relation to intrusive inspections,” he told a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event. “Not only would Iran be required to allow 24/7 eyes on the nuclear sites you’ve heard of – Fordow and Natanz and Arak – and the ability to challenge suspect locations, every link in their nuclear supply chain will be under surveillance.”
Reid accuses GOP critics of wanting to see Iran deal ‘crash and burn’
Differences between Iran and the U.S. over inspections and another key issue, the timing of sanctions relief, remain front and center as the U.S. Senate wrangles over amendments to bipartisan legislation that would give Congress the right to review, and potentially vote on, any negotiated nuclear deal.
The administration threatened to veto the bill, then reluctantly acquiesced after several contentious measures were removed or revised. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the revised text by a 19-0 vote, and it has been debated in the full Senate over the past week.
On Monday Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) of trying to “ruin” the bipartisan legislation by submitting what he called “poison pill after poison pill to what was a noble compromise between the leaders of the Foreign Relations Committee.”
He urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to shut down debate, saying the work done by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) in crafting a compromise bill “is too important to be undone by senators who are putting politics before national and global security.”
Among the proposed amendments that have threatened bipartisan support for the Corker-Cardin bill are one submitted by Rubio, which would require Tehran to recognize Israel’s right to exist; and one by Cotton requiring Iran to take specific steps including giving international inspectors full access to suspicious sites, before getting sanctions relief.
Reid was particularly critical of Cotton, accusing him of trying to undermine Obama.
“The junior senator from Arkansas has been on record for months stating his desire to see this negotiation fail,” he said. “The junior senator from Arkansas and other Republicans want to see any potential agreement with Iran crash and burn, even before we know what’s in the final agreement.”
On Thursday Cotton challenged senators reluctant to vote on his and Rubio’s amendments, saying if they did not want to vote they “shouldn’t have come to the Senate.”