A majority of Americans believe Iran is not likely to honor an eventual final agreement on its contentious nuclear program, a new poll has found.
According to a survey released by NBC on Thursday, 68 percent of those polled said Tehran was “not too likely or not at all likely” to abide by a deal to curb its atomic program.
Iran and the US-led P5+1 world powers are set to negotiate a final accord by a June 30 deadline, having reached what has been described as a “historic” political framework for a potential deal last week in Lausanne, Switzerland. The framework has been highly controversial and has exposed differing interpretations about what the deal would entail, including on restrictions on centrifuges, R&D, inspections and the lifting of sanctions. There have also been contradictory statements by the US and Iran on the initial agreement, which is not a signed text.
The NBC poll found that 53% of Americans think Iran’s nuclear program presents a major threat to the US, compared with 37% who said it’s a minor threat and 8% who think it presents no threat to the US.
The poll found a marked difference in opinion among those over 45, who were witness to the 1979 hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran, and those who were not. Of those over 45 years of age, 61% said Iran’s program was a major threat, compared with 43% for those under 45.
The survey also found that while half of Americans (50%) disapproved of Obama’s handling of “the situation with Iran,” (compared with 48% who approved) the majority trusted him more than the Republicans to conduct negotiations with Tehran.
Fifty four percent of those polled said they believed Obama would do a “better job handling an agreement with Iran,” compared with 42% who said Republicans in Congress would.
The poll was conducted among 2,052 respondents who volunteered for the online survey, and had a margin of error of 3%.
Earlier Thursday, the US State Department said that any sanctions relief for Iran as part of a landmark nuclear accord will only come once curbs on enrichment are verified, rebuffing demands in Tehran for an immediate lifting of the punishing restrictions.
“Sanctions will be suspended in a phased manner upon verification that Iran has met specific commitments under a finalized joint comprehensive plan of action,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters in Washington.
“The process of sanctions suspension or relief will only begin after Iran has completed its major nuclear steps and the breakout time has been increased to at least a year,” he said.
“That’s consistent with what we said over the last week or so, and that was agreed upon by all the parties in Lausanne,” Rathke added, referring the Swiss city where the framework agreement was reached last week.
“We’re not going to respond to every public statement made by Iranian officials or negotiate in public,” Rathke said.
Earlier in the day, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani repeated a demand that world powers lift sanctions the day a final accord is signed, indicating the issue could be a deal breaker.
“We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal,” Rouhani said.
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei said Thursday that the punitive “sanctions should be lifted completely, on the very day of the deal” — something that has not been agreed upon.
He cautioned that the six world powers are “not to be trusted” and may try “to limit Iran” in further talks.
And he urged Iranian negotiators not to accept any “unconventional inspections” of Iran’s nuclear facilities, stressing that the inspection of military facilities would not be permitted.
Iran and the six powers agreed last week on a framework deal that is meant to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities while granting it quick access to bank accounts, oil markets and financial assets blocked by international sanctions.
But the deal as detailed by the US does not include the immediate lifting of sanctions. Instead, it says sanctions put in place over Iran’s nuclear program will be suspended once international monitors verify that Tehran is abiding by the limitations spelled out in the agreement.
The pace at which the sanctions will be lifted is one of the many outstanding issues that still has to be agreed in the final accord.
Western governments, which have imposed their own sanctions over and above those adopted by the United Nations, have been pushing for it to happen only gradually.
Obama has also said that the final deal will include provisions to “snap back” sanctions if the world finds out that Iran is not abiding by the terms of the agreement.
But Israel has expressed concern over how quickly the sanctions will be lifted, and questioned whether the “snap back” mechanism is feasible.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office tweeted a series of graphics over the past few days outlining Israel’s main questions regarding the deal. One of those was: “Are sanctions being removed in phases, as the P5+1 claims, or all at once, as Iran claims?”
Israel is concerned that once removed, the sanctions — which took years to set into place — will be hard to restore.
Kerry on Wednesday maintained there was “an automatic process” to reinstate sanctions, if need be.
If Iran violates the terms of the agreement “then the sanctions can, and will, come back. For a certain number of years that will happen automatically, but I can assure you that if Iran were then to suddenly move to try to advance this program beyond what would be normal for a peaceful nuclear power, the whole world will respond just as we have now and sanctions would be re-imposed,” Kerry told PBS’s NewsHour.
The sticking point highlights the lengths negotiators still have to go before reaching a full accord by a self-imposed June 30 deadline.
Under the deal, Iran is expected to curb its enrichment activities while leaving some 6,000 centrifuges — about 1/3rd of its current stock — spinning, and open itself up to a strict international monitoring regime.
Iran has repeatedly stonewalled the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring agency from fully investigating the scope of its nuclear ambitions. However, according to Kerry, that will change under the terms of any June agreement, which would include “a very robust inspection system.”
AFP contributed to this report