(CNSNews.com) – State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that members of Congress should wait until a final Iran nuclear agreement is reached before judging it – but then refused to say whether negotiators would brief lawmakers before signing off on such a deal.
With P5+1 talks resuming in Vienna next week aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement with Iran by a Nov. 24 deadline, some members of Congress are voicing concerns about any deal that would leave Iran on the threshold of being able to develop nuclear weapons.
“We’ve been working closely with Congress to keep them abreast of these discussions and negotiations, and we continue to encourage any member of Congress to look closely at whatever final contents of a deal are before they make judgments,” Psaki told a press briefing.
Matt Lee of The Associated Press asked whether Congress would simply be “presented with a fait accompli,” but Psaki said that was not what she was saying.
Asked whether the negotiators, if they reach a deal in Vienna, would return to brief Congress before signing it, Psaki again said no.
“You’re saying that you would go ahead – even though you’re telling Congress that they can’t make a judgment because they won’t know all the details until a final deal is reached, you’re saying that a final deal is going to be signed off on and then you’re going to brief Congress about the results?” Lee asked.
“I’m not going to get into more details about our briefing of Congress,” Psaki said, turning to another question.
Two U.S. senators who co-authored some of the toughest Iran sanctions legislation currently in place warned Wednesday against reaching any agreement with Tehran that will leave it as a nuclear threshold state, echoing concerns repeatedly expressed by Israel.
“As co-authors of bipartisan sanctions laws that compelled Iran to the negotiating table, we believe that a good deal will dismantle, not just stall, Iran’s illicit nuclear program and prevent Iran from ever becoming a threshold nuclear weapons state,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a statement.
“This will require stringent limits on nuclear-related research, development and procurement, coming clean on all possible military dimensions (PMD) issues and a robust inspection and verification regime for decades to prevent Iran from breaking-out or covertly sneaking-out.”
“Gradual sanctions relaxation would only occur if Iran strictly complied with all parts of the agreement,” Kirk and Menendez said. “If a potential deal does not achieve these goals, we will work with our colleagues in Congress to act decisively, as we have in the past.”
Psaki repeated the administration’s opposition to any new sanctions push on Capitol Hill.
“We believe that the [P5+1] negotiators are the ones who need to have the freedom to make the decision,” she said. “Our position on whether or not there should be new sanctions legislation put in place has been consistent throughout this process because we feel that would be damaging to the negotiations.”
Asked whether the administration agreed with the parameters laid out by Kirk and Menendez in their statement, Psaki replied, “Our position is we are negotiating with Iran about preventing them from acquiring a nuclear weapon by cutting off all of the pathways for them to acquire that. There are a range of steps that need to be included in there, including stringent monitoring, stringent verification, but I’m going to leave what our view is as that.”
The declared goal in the talks between Iran and the P5+1 – the U.S., France, China, Britain, Russia and Germany – is for the international community to have confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and cannot be used to develop nuclear weapons. Iran in return would see sanctions eased.
Last November the parties reached an interim agreement, granting Tehran limited sanctions relief in exchange for limited curbs on its nuclear program for six months, pending negotiations for a final agreement. The six-month period was extended once, leaving Nov. 24 as the deadline for a deal.
As the first six-month period was about to begin, the administration voiced strong opposition to a Kirk-Menendez bill that sought to hold over Iran the threat of additional sanctions, although not actually impose them unless Iran violated the interim agreement or allowed the negotiating period to run out without agreeing to a final deal.
Despite its “deferred trigger” the administration said the measure would be seen by Iran as a sign of bad faith, could even lead to “war,” and threatened to veto it if it passed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented the bill from coming to a vote.
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani told his cabinet Wednesday that the P5+1 countries – and “particularly the U.S.” – should understand Iran’s stance on the nuclear issue, and should not involve their domestic problems in negotiations.
He did not elaborate, but may have been alluding to the sweeping Republican gains in midterm elections this month.