Addressing a Jewish audience, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman described the bill that was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14 as “a piece of legislation that gave the Congress a procedural way to look at this agreement without getting into the substance, per se” – something for which she said the administration was “very grateful.”
When it comes to the Senate floor this week, however, “there will be a lot of pretty awful amendments, quite frankly, and we’ll see where we end up,” she added.
“The president has said that if the Corker-Cardin legislation stays where it is, he will not veto it; if it becomes something else, then he’ll have to consider his options.”
Earlier the bill’s sponsor, committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), worked with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on revisions to the original text to secure the broadest possible support. The White House then dropped its earlier threat to veto the legislation.
Among amendments being floated by Republican senators are provisions that would require Iran publicly to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to renounce terrorism, and to release American citizens imprisoned in Iran.
The administration has argued that such issues, while of serious concern, should be kept separate from the nuclear negotiations. Some Democrats have threatened to withdraw their support for the Corker bill if the amendments get through.
The Senate is expected to debate the legislation – which now has 63 co-sponsors, 18 of them Democrats – beginning Tuesday. Overriding a presidential veto requires 67 votes.
Speaking at a Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism event in Washington, Sherman defended a framework Iran nuclear agreement, announced on April 2 after lengthy talks in Switzerland.
The framework is meant to form the basis of a final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – to be reached by a June 30 deadline.
Sherman said it was “abundantly clear” that the deal being negotiated was the better course of action than the alternatives.
Without the agreement, Iran’s stockpile of uranium-enrichment centrifuges will grow from the current 19,000 to 100,000 in the next few years; with the agreement it will shrink to 5,000, “for at least the next decade.”
Without the deal, Iran’s “breakout” time – the period of time it would take the Iranians to acquire the material needed for one nuclear weapon, once it initiates the work – is around two or three months, Sherman said. Under the deal, it will be extended to one year – “for at least ten years.”
While she could understand the “impulse” to want to use the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, she said, it would not be of lasting effect.
“Many people say – and I understand the impulse, because you get frustrated and there’s so much going on in the region that is it not good – that people say, ‘Take military action against Iran.’
“Actually, our intelligence community has assessed and said publicly that if we took military action against Iran, it would only take away their program for maybe two years,” Sherman said.
“They have mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle, and you can’t bomb away knowledge. So even if we destroyed their facilities, they could recreate it.”
Sherman said the “durable solution” was to achieve an agreement, with enough verification and monitoring to know what is happening in Iran.
On the question of verification, she underlined the administration’s stance that the agreement will subject Iran to “the most extensive system of monitoring and verification we have ever negotiated for any country anywhere in the world.”
“We will have eyes into every part of Iran’s nuclear program from cradle to grave. And if we detect Iran is trying to break its commitments or violating the agreement, we will have every single option on the table to respond to them that we have today.”
The U.S. says the Iranians agreed to inspectors visiting any site, “anywhere in the country,” where nuclear activity is suspected, but Iranian leaders insist that military sites are off-limits and that they will not accept an inspection regime more robust than those applicable to other countries.
Sherman did not mention that key dispute over inspections, which has emerged since April 2 between the U.S. and Iranian versions of what was actually agreed to in Switzerland.
Non-proliferation experts stress that “anywhere, anytime” inspections will be a crucial component of any effective agreement.