Nuclear Talks

GOP Rejects Obama’s ‘Creative’ Iran Nuclear Compromises

The administration is preparing to let Iran 'disconnect' its nuclear centrifuges rather than actually dismantling them. Republican senators are already saying no way.

09.20.14 3:10 PM ET

The Obama administration is frantically searching for “creative solutions” to get to a nuclear deal with Iran, but according to 31 Republican senators, the administration is getting way too lenient while trying to entice Tehran to get to yes.

Late Friday night, senior administration officials confirmed to The New York Times rumors that they are offering Iran a deal that would allow them to “disconnect” some of their 19,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges instead of actually dismantling them, as part of a comprehensive agreement between Iran and the P5+1 countries over Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.

Under the proposed scheme, Iran would disconnect the pipes that connect the centrifuges, so that Iran could claim they haven’t actually given up any centrifuges and the U.S. could claim they have increased the time it would take Iran to race toward a nuclear bomb.

But any nuclear deal would depend on Congress agreeing to lift sanctions and there’s no way Republicans in the Senate are going to sign off on this and other “creative solutions,” wrote 31 Republicans senators in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, obtained by The Daily Beast.

“Given that a nuclear Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to the security of the United States, Israel, and other allies, we are gravely concerned about the possibility of any new agreement that, in return for further relief of U.S.-led international sanctions, would allow Iran to produce explosive nuclear material,” the letter stated. 

The GOP senators want Kerry to say definitively whether he would accept disconnecting centrifuges and whether he would agree to other controversial concessions, like allowing the Arak heavy water reactor to continue functioning or signing a deal that expires in only a few years. Former Obama administration nuclear negotiator Bob Einhorn wrote that reactors like the one in Arak were “excellent plutonium bomb factories.”

The letter was led by Sen. Mark Kirk, who, along with Sen. Bob Menendez, authored many of the sanctions against Iran the Obama administration initially opposed but now says pushed Tehran to the negotiating table. Kirk has been a long time critic of the negotiations, led by Kerry’s Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.

“Wendy Sherman and her team are desperate, floating these ‘creative solutions’ to hide the fact that they haven’t gotten Iran to agree to a single irreversible step to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons capability,” Kirk told The Daily Beast on Saturday. “Negotiators need to know that Senators are closely watching the Iran nuclear talks. We will block the lifting of Iran sanctions if a comprehensive agreement isn't absolutely irreversible and watertight, completely transparent and verifiable, and many decades in duration."

Kirk said he had met with Sherman and told her not to “screw up” the Iran negotiations the same way she, in his view, fumbled the nuclear negotiations with North Korea she was involved in during the Clinton administration.

“Wendy told me she thought the North Korea negotiations were a great success,” Kirk said. “I called John Kerry and told him to adjust her meds.”

Sherman was part of the State Department team under Secretary Warren Christopher that negotiated the Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994 and she later served as North Korea policy coordinator for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who traveled to Pyongyang to meet with the North Koreans in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

The administration’s leak to the Times came after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spilled some of the beans in private meetings with American reporters this week and at a Sept. 17 event he did in New York with the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The United States is obsessed with sanctions, because this deal would require the United States to lift the sanctions,” Zarif said. “And now the reason Congress is objecting to this is that it wants to keep these sanctions.”

Zarif also blamed the United States for the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, predicted that Obama’s air war against ISIS will fail, defended the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, denied that Iran has been working on a nuclear weapon in the first place, and said he wouldn’t agree to a nuclear deal that would last more than a few years.

The Obama administration is searching for a way to get to a deal with Iran during talks this week on the sides of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York. A senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing Sept. 18 that the U.S. would demand tough concessions from Iran in any deal to lift sanctions.

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“The Iranians have said over these many days and weeks how reasonable and flexible they are in these talks, and about how their current capacity should be acceptable. But the status quo is not doable for any of us. It is not doable for either side,” the official said. “The world will agree to suspend and then lift sanctions only if Iran takes convincing and verifiable steps to show that its nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful.”

Behind the scenes there’s a lot of concern that Iran may be just playing for time and not ready to make any real sacrifices, jeopardizing the negotiations and a pillar of what President Obama wants to be his foreign policy legacy, a new relationship with Iran. 

“[Administration officials] complain that Mr. Zarif talks a good game, but has offered few meaningful cuts in the centrifuges. Both sides are clearly worried, because if they cannot win agreement on the main issue over the next 10 days or so, … it is hard to imagine how the complex details of a final accord can be resolved in the remaining time,” the Times wrote. “Which is where the plumbing comes in.”