The US State Department adamantly defended the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran on Monday, claiming as a June 30 deadline looms without progress that the deal justifies the wait.
Going to bat for Washington over the issue, which has faced increasing scrutiny from political analysts and Israeli politicians alike, was Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.
"The United States and Israel share an absolute conviction that Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon," Blinken began, speaking at the 2015 American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum in Washington, DC. "When it comes to that core strategic goal, there is not an inch of daylight between the United States and Israel."
First difference: continuing with a deal at all
Blinken addressed the fast-approaching deadline, but noted that the impasse does not outweigh the supposed benefits of continuing to pursue a deal.
"We continue to believe that the very best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is through a verified, negotiated agreement that resolves the international community’s legitimate concerns and, as a practical matter, makes it impossible for Iran to develop the fissile material for a weapon without giving us the means and the time to see it and to stop it," he said.
"The deal we are working toward will close each of Iran’s four pathways to obtaining enough fissile material for a weapon – the uranium pathways at Natanz and Fordow, the plutonium pathway through Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak, and a potential covert pathway."
"To cut off these pathways, any comprehensive arrangement must include exceptional constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and extraordinary monitoring and intrusive transparency measures that maximize the international community’s ability to detect any attempt by Iran to break out, overtly or covertly," he added.
Justification for framework agreement
He justified the framework agreement – which was found to have gaping holes – by claiming that it has worked thus far to prevent Iranian nuclear development.
"President Obama and Secretary Kerry maintained that the United States, our partners – including Israel – and the entire world would become safer the day after the Joint Plan of Action was implemented," he said. "That is exactly what happened."
"Iran has lived up to its commitments under that Joint Plan of Action," he said. "It’s halted progress on its nuclear program; it’s rolled it back in some key respects for the first time in a decade."
"How do we know that? Because today, as a result of the interim agreement, the international inspectors, the IAEA, have daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities, and a far deeper understanding of Iran’s nuclear program. They’ve been able to learn new things about Iran’s centrifuge production, uranium mines, and other facilities. And they’ve been able to verify that Iran is indeed honoring its commitments."
Actually, a New York Times report revealed earlier this month that Iran has grown its nuclear stockpiles by 18% during negotiations despite Obama's claims its program would be frozen during talks.
Iran may be in violation of negotiation conditions if it does not reduce its stockpile of low enriched uranium nuclear fuel by June 30 by roughly 1,000 kilograms.
Blinken then addressed the multiple problems analysts and Israeli politicians have raised over the deal.
"First, the deal that we are working to achieve will not expire," he maintained. "Different requirements of the deal would have different durations, but some – including Iran’s commitment to all of the obligations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the obligation not to build a nuclear weapon, as well as the tough access and monitoring provisions of the Additional Protocol – those would continue in perpetuity."
He insisted that, without an agreement, Iran would be capable of building "an industrial-scale program with tens of thousands of centrifuges" in the event the framework agreement is not cemented into a more permanent deal.
"Second, this deal would provide such extensive levels of transparency that if Iran fails to comply with the international community’s obligations, we’ll know about it – and we will know it virtually right away, giving us plenty of time to respond diplomatically, or, if necessary, by other means," he claimed.
Blinken added that "most of the sanctions would be suspended – not ended – for a long period of time, with provisions to snap back automatically if Iran reneges on its commitments." However, recent reports indicate that rollback conditions have not been fully incorporated into the text of the deal, and are – in fact- waiting for Iran's unlikely approval of the measures.
"Third, we would not agree to a deal unless the IAEA is granted access to whatever Iranian sites are required to verify that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful – period."
He maintained that adding any sanctions onto Iran would be useless.
"It is a fantasy to believe that Iran will simply capitulate to every demand if we ratchet up the pressure even more through sanctions," he said. "Despite intensifying pressure over the last decade, Iran went from just 150 centrifuges in 2002 to 19,000 before we reached the interim agreement."
He insisted that the deal will involve input from Congress and the voting public before approval, in contradiction to reports that US President Barack Obama is avoiding the issue by hiding the document outlining the final terms of a deal.
"Any comprehensive agreement will be subject to the legitimate scrutiny of our citizens, our Congress, and our closest partners," he said. "We welcome that scrutiny, and will not agree to any deal that cannot withstand it."
Challenging Israel's position
Blinken also spoke at some length about the US's credibility, and the importance to protect it by maintaining close enough relations with international partners participating in talks.
"Those who would prefer that we simply take military action now against Iran without going the last diplomatic mile: you need to consider that such a response would first destroy the international sanctions coalition," he said.
He added that it would "only set Iran’s nuclear program back by a few years at best, at which point Iran likely would bury a new program deep underground and speed toward an actual nuclear weapon."
"All of that said, the United States continues to believe – as we have from day one – that no deal is preferable to a bad deal," he insisted, in direct contradiction to Israel's own stance on the issue. "We’ve had plenty of opportunities throughout this negotiating process to take a bad deal; we did not, and we will not."
He also subtly challenged Israel on their opposition.
"At the same time, I would say to any opponents of the agreement, if we reach it: You’ll have an obligation, too. Here in the United States, you’ll have an obligation to tell the American people exactly what you would do differently, and exactly how you would get it done."