Despite 'candid' Geneva talks, US senators want more sanctions
"No one should be impressed" by Iran's rhetoric in Geneva, says Sen. Marco Rubio • Negotiators were all smiles on Thursday • New talks set for Nov. 7 • White House: Talks have "level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before."
Eli Leon, Shlomo Cesana, Gideon Allon, Yoni Hirsch, Reuters, The Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smiles during a press conference closing two days of closed-door nuclear talks on October 16, 2013 in Geneva
Photo credit: AFP
Against the backdrop of renewed talks with Iran over its nuclear program, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are demanding the escalation of sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Sen. Mark Kirk says Iran's refusal to halt its "nuclear and ballistic missile programs" means the Senate should immediately target all Iranian government revenue and reserves.
Although the talks between Iran and the P5+1 produced only one tangible accomplishment on Thursday -- both sides agreed on a new date for talks -- one of the top negotiators in the U.S. delegation had this to say: "I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before."
He added that the talks' pace has also been more rapid than in the past: "We are now commencing the same kind of talks, where we can imagine an agreement at the end of the road."
But Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio does not share the optimism coming out of Geneva. On Wednesday, Rubio introduced a resolution calling for more sanctions, and said Iran could not be trusted.
"No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table in Geneva," Rubio said. "Tehran has broken its word far too many times to be trusted. Due to its complete disregard for previous international agreements, we must take a firm stand in all negotiations regarding the nuclear capabilities Iran is permitted to retain."
The U.S. Senate's Banking Committee is expected to take up a new package of restrictive measures against Iran in the coming weeks, similar to a bill passed by the House of Representatives in July. The House's legislation blacklisted Iran's mining and construction sectors, and committed the United States to the goal of eliminating all Iranian petroleum exports worldwide by 2015. A large majority of senators already have spoken out in favor of the new sanctions.
Describing the Iranian overture as a "proposed approach," not a proposal, U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she was not aware of any decision from the Obama administration on whether to continue to ask Congress to hold off on placing additional sanctions on Iran until after the second round of talks convenes in early November.
The West has been pleasantly surprised by the fact that the top Iranian negotiators -- Mohammad Javad Zarif and Abbas Araghchi --- spoke in English during the talks this week. Zarif's PowerPoint presentation, in which he outlined Iran's proposed mechanism to resolve its dispute with the West, fit in with the pleasant atmosphere. The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, said it was "a very intensive and, I think, a very important meeting."
Zarif said he hoped this was "the beginning of a new phase" between his country and some of its most vehement critics. Zarif said the talks were productive and noted that the engagement could ease the tensions between the two sides.
A statement read by Ashton to reporters on behalf of both sides said the talks were "substantive and forward looking." The two sides agreed to reconvene in Geneva on Nov. 7.
Zarif's presentation included the following offer:
• Phase I: The two sides will seek to rebuild trust. Iran will scale back its nuclear program and the U.S. and the EU will lift some of the sanctions.
• Phase II: The two sides will agree on the final state of Iran's nuclear program. This will require the U.S. to allow some form of enrichment activity in Iran.
• Phase III: The two sides will agree on lifting sanctions in exchange for more Iranian concessions.
The three phases would be implemented over the course of a year.
"We certainly want to make clear that no one, despite the positive signs that we've seen, no one should expect a breakthrough overnight," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stressed on Wednesday. Carney said Zarif's presentation was "useful" and showed a "level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before."
"Although we appreciate the recent change in tone from the Iranian government on this issue, we will be looking for specific steps that address core issues," he stressed. “These are very complicated issues, in some cases, very technical issues. And as the President (Barack Obama) has said, the mistrust here is very deep. But we hope for progress in Geneva,” he said.
Iranian state TV, which closely reflects government views, said Tehran offered to discuss uranium enrichment levels. The report also said Iran proposed adopting the additional protocols of the U.N.'s nuclear treaty -- effectively opening its nuclear facilities to wider inspection and monitoring -- if the West recognizes Iran's right to enrich uranium.
According to an unnamed official who took part in the talks, Iran has offered to reduce the number of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment, which is one of the main demands of the West.
But for all the optimism in Geneva, Israel has been wary of the talks and the potential rapprochement with Iran, warning the West not to lift sanctions prematurely. "Iran should be tested by its actions, not its presentations," a senior Israeli official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity in a message sent from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.
The official stressed that Iran's "brazen" violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions was continuing. The official noted that the resolutions mandate a permanent cessation of enrichment activity and require Iran to stop the reprocessing its fissile material and suspend all heavy water-related activity.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Knesset on Wednesday that Israel was following the talks "with hope and concern."
"Hope," he said, "because we haven't ruled out a diplomatic resolution, and if a serious, satisfactory agreement that distances Iran from nuclear capability is formulated, we would welcome it. It would be beneficial for both sides. Concern, because we fear that Geneva 2013 will turn into Munich 1938. History once knew an agreement that was celebrated by the entire world and then, a year later, World War II broke out."
For Iran, any proposed nuclear deal must pass through a potentially difficult review by Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, whose vast portfolio includes oversight of nuclear facilities. Guard commanders have been openly resistant to Rouhani's overtures to Washington and would likely oppose provisions that would appear to reduce their influence or open military sites to greater international inspection.
For the moment, Guard leaders have been appeased somewhat by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's suggestion that there are time limits -- perhaps six months -- on attempts to move forward on a nuclear deal with the West. If no progress is shown, hard-liners are likely to increase their demands to end Rouhani's bid.