Iran to Blame if Talks Fail, Says U.S.

October 28, 2014

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs


Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin

As the present nuclear talks with Iran slipped into their final month, U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warned that the world would blame Iran if the talks failed.  Under Secretary Sherman said in a speech in Washington on October 23 that Iran had been offered “a number of ideas that are equitable, enforceable, and consistent with Tehran’s expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program.”  She also said the talks (due to end November 24) had made “impressive progress on issues that originally seemed intractable,” and hinted that Iran might not have to explain past research suspected of being intended for nuclear weapons.  She said sanctions against Iran could be lifted if Iran showed “that its nuclear program is and will remain entirely peaceful.”  The words “has been” were omitted.

Under Secretary Sherman’s remarks came only a few days after a continuing complaint that Iran had refused to explain this research to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Director General Yukiya Amano stated on October 20 that because Iran still had not implemented some of the “transparency measures” it had agreed to carry out by late August, the Agency could not “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.”  Iran was supposed to have explained to the Agency alleged work on the initiation of high explosives and studies on neutron transport calculations by August 25.

Congress has also stressed the importance of resolving questions about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapon research.  A letter on October 1 signed by 354 members of the House of Representatives warned that any final deal with Iran would have to include a full accounting for such research.

Members of Congress, including Democrats, are also worried that the administration is seeking a final deal with Iran that would not require congressional approval.  Secretary of State John Kerry addressed these concerns on October 22, following a meeting with his German counterpart in Berlin.  Secretary Kerry explained that “in the first instance, we would look to suspend sanctions, which the President can do,” but that “Congress will play a role in this […] in the end.”  As examples of Congress’ future role, Secretary Kerry cited hearings, briefings, and “a significant amount of back-and-forth.”  In a statement a day earlier, House Democrat Eliot Engel, who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, disputed Secretary Kerry’s timeline, saying that “Congress must play a role at the outset of any comprehensives agreement.”

Israel also added its point of view.  On October 21, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met in Washington with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, where he conveyed Israel’s concern about what a final agreement with Iran might contain.  His visit was preceded by an exact statement of that concern in the October 19 New York Times.  Mr. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence, argued in an op-ed that “the talks are moving in the wrong direction,” and could, he wrote, produce a final deal like the one with North Korea, in which Iran would retain large parts of its nuclear potential and “preserve the capability to produce nuclear weapons at a time it deems appropriate.”  Rather than make such a deal, he said, it would be better to have no deal now and hope that stronger sanctions produce a better deal later.

Meanwhile, analysts continued to speculate about the prospect of reaching a final deal by the November 24 deadline.  Writing in Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dennis Ross predicted that no deal would be reached and set forth three possible paths: a breakdown in talks; another partial deal with additional nuclear restrictions and sanctions relief; and what he described as “muddling through,” whereby both sides would informally respect the conditions of the existing interim accord without striking a new one.  In any case, Ambassador Ross concluded the United States should prepare a “plan B” in the likely case that no final deal is reached, because “It would be a big mistake to wait until November 25 before considering the likely alternatives.”