Nuclear talks with Iran? Senators implore Obama to draw line in the sand.
The senators are urging Obama to demand that Iran suspend all of its uranium enrichment during any negotiations over its nuclear program, a position that could scuttle chances for the talks.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Specifically, a bipartisan group of influential senators is insisting that Iran be required to verifiably suspend all of its uranium enrichment activity during any negotiations – even though such a demand could sink prospects for a new round of talks.
In a letter addressed to Mr. Obama, a dozen senators representing both major political parties and a range of red and blue states say they “strongly oppose any proposal that caps or limits sanctions against the Iranian regime in exchange for anything less than full, verifiable, and sustained suspension of all enrichment activities, including both 3 percent and 20 percent enrichment.”
Uranium enriched to 3 percent purity is used to fuel nuclear power plants, but Iran has also been enriching to 20-percent purity, setting off alarm bells among world powers. They worry Iran is stockpiling enough 20-percent-enriched uranium to make the “breakout” leap to the 90 percent highly enriched uranium it would need for a nuclear weapon.
Iran counters that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes, and that it is using the 20 percent enriched uranium to operate an aging, American-built research reactor near Tehran that makes isotopes for medical use.
The letter from the senators – led by Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Republican Jim Risch of Idaho, and Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut – arose after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, suggested Friday that talks between Iran and the so-called P5 +1 countries could resume soon. The P5 + 1 group includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.
Iran last week sent a letter to Lady Ashton saying it was ready to resume talks on its nuclear program. But Iranian officials have also insisted that they will never agree to suspend all enrichment in exchange for talks.
The senators’ tough stance reflects growing concerns among foreign policy hawks that the Obama administration could soften its position on Iranian enrichment in an effort to relaunch talks that were last held – and which got nowhere – more than a year ago.
Administration critics see a redrawing of the administration’s red lines on Iranian enrichment: They note that in 2009 Secretary Clinton flatly rejected Iran maintaining any enrichment capabilities, while in recent statements her position has become more nuanced.