Top US official says Iran has met interim obligations

Deputy secretary of state tells Jewish group that many concerns about the emerging nuclear deal are ‘more myth than fact’

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Barack Obama (right) speaking to advisers Tony Blinken (foreground), and Ben Rhodes (background), regarding the Iran nuclear deal, on Sunday, November 24, 2013. (Pete Souza/White House)
Barack Obama (right) speaking to advisers Tony Blinken (foreground), and Ben Rhodes (background), regarding the Iran nuclear deal, on Sunday, November 24, 2013. (Pete Souza/White House)

WASHINGTON — Iran has upheld all of its obligations under an interim nuclear agreement with a group of six world powers, a senior US State Department official asserted Monday.

Speaking to the administration’s resolve to reach an effective long-term agreement with Iran, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the audience at the American Jewish Committee’s annual Global Forum that Israel’s security had already been improved under the provisions of the temporary agreement that went into effect in January 2014, known as the Joint Plan of Action.

Acknowledging that Israel and the United States have disagreed as to the steps necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, Blinken said that “we may have our differences, but our bedrock security relationship is sacrosanct and it is stronger than ever. It is at the center of our minds when we sit at the negotiating table with Iran.”

He added that “there is not an inch of daylight between the US and Israel” regarding the “core strategic goal” of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

Although in recent weeks, administration officials have said that they believe that an agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran can be achieved before the self-imposed June 30 deadline, Blinken noted that “we do not have a comprehensive agreement and there is still a chance that we won’t get one.”

The deputy secretary spoke to the audience in place of Secretary of State John Kerry, who was originally supposed to address the annual convention, but was forced to cancel his appearance after he broke his thigh in a biking accident.

Blinken argued that Israel is safer now from a nuclear Iran than it was 18 months ago, before the Joint Plan of Action was implemented and Iran received partial sanctions relief.

As a result of the JPOA, Blinken asserted, “Iran has halted process on some aspects of its nuclear program and has rolled it back in certain ways.” International inspectors, he said, “have been able to verify that Iran is indeed living up to its commitments.”

The deputy secretary’s comments came a week after a report in The New York Times cast new doubt on Iran’s adherence to the guidelines or intent under the JPOA. The report showed that according to international inspectors, Iran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent in the period since nuclear negotiations began.

Although the administration has disputed the significance of the report’s revelations, the news provided new ammunition for the deal’s opponents who say that Iran’s nuclear program has not been “frozen.”

Blinken, who has appeared before Congress to testify on aspects of the administration’s talks with Iran, reiterated the terms that the administration has set out for an acceptable agreement with Tehran.

He spoke out against the detractors of the potential deal, saying that “many concerns are simply misplaced and are more myth than fact,” listing among those the expiration or “sunset clause” for nuclear oversight.

“The deal will not expire and there will not be a so-called sunset,” Blinken stressed, explaining that the monitoring of nuclear access and protocols and Iran’s obligations to uphold all of the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty would remain in perpetuity.

In contrast, he warned, “if we don’t get a deal, the provisions of the Joint Plan of Action will sunset immediately.”

Blinken argued that “there is simply no better option for preventing Iran from obtaining the material for a nuclear bomb” than the current course of action taken by the P5+1 negotiating states.

Speaking against Congressional proposals to dangle the threat of increased sanctions over negotiators’ heads as a tool to increase pressure for a “good” deal, Blinken said that “it is a fantasy to believe that Iran will simply capitulate to every demand if we ratchet up the pressure through increasing sanctions.”

Warning that a collapse of talks due to such a move would make the US, not Iran, more isolated, Blinken challenged the deal’s opponents to “tell the people of the United States exactly what they’d do differently and exactly how they’d get it done.”

US President Barack Obama has led the diplomatic initiative to try to end a 12-year international standoff between Tehran and the West, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long decried the emerging deal as dangerous, saying it will “pave the way” to an Iranian bomb, and has repeatedly warned that the easing of sanctions would enable the Iranian government to continue sponsoring terrorism and fomenting unrest across the region.

While Obama has publicly supported the emerging agreement that is based on a framework deal reached at the beginning of April, Netanyahu has strongly criticized the plan for not dismantling Iran’s nuclear bomb-making capabilities.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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