(CNSNews.com) – As Secretary of State John Kerry prepared to fly to Vienna Friday to lend a final push to the Iran nuclear talks, a bipartisan group of leading security experts, diplomats and retired senior military officers warned that absent several key provisions, an impending deal “may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a ‘good’ agreement.”
Tuesday marks the deadline agreed by Iran and the P5+1 group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – to conclude an agreement with the declared aim of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of its civilian nuclear program.
The supposed “framework” of that agreement was announced in early April, but the U.S. and Iranian versions of what it actually entails differ significantly.
Major areas in dispute feature in the statement issued Thursday by the group of experts convened by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which said that “most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement.” (The statement reflected “the broad consensus of the group,” whose members endorsed it in their personal capacities, the institute said.)
The signatories – among them former CIA Director David Petraeus, former Obama administration arms control and nonproliferation officials Gary Samore and Robert Einhorn, and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright – underlined five key points.
They deal with the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor and verify Iran’s compliance; its effort to complete investigations into Iran’s past and possibly ongoing actions relating to suspected nuclear weapons work – the so-called “possible military dimensions” (PMD); limitations on advanced centrifuges; the timing and nature of, and requirements for, sanctions relief under an agreement; and consequences for any violations by Iran.
Verification is a major area of disagreement. According to the administration’s account of the framework deal, Iran agreed to grant access to IAEA inspectors to investigate suspicious sites “anywhere in the country.”
But Iran disputes that that includes military facilities, declaring them, as well as Iran’s scientists, to be off-limits to foreigners – a stance reiterated by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as recently as Tuesday night.
The statement by the group of U.S. experts said the IAEA “must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement,” including military sites, and Iran must not be able to block or delay any visit.
It also said the IAEA’s PMD investigation work “needs to be accomplished before any significant sanctions relief.” And the agency must have access to sites, scientists, officials and documents as needed for that task.
On the timing of the lifting of sanctions, Khamenei said in Tuesday’s speech – parts of which he later tweeted – that “all economic, financial and banking sanctions,” whether imposed by the U.S. executive or legislative branch or the U.N. Security Council, must be lifted on the same day the deal is signed.
Remaining sanctions, he said without elaborating, “can be removed gradually according to a reasonable timetable” – but without a requirement for IAEA approval first.
In their statement the U.S. experts said, “Suspension or lifting of the most significant sanctions must not occur until the IAEA confirms that Iran has taken the key steps required to come into compliance with the agreement.”
They also said it was vital for the U.S. to state publicly now, with Congress providing formal endorsement, that “it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires.”
‘I am not tweeting’
Kerry on Tuesday dismissed Khamenei’s statements, saying they were “not new.”
“We’re not going to be guided by or conditioned by or affected by or deterred by some tweet that is for public consumption or for domestic political consumption,” he said at the State Department.
“What matters to us is what is agreed upon within the four corners of a document, and that is what is yet to be determined.”
“We’ve been very, very clear that we’re not going to negotiate in public,” Kerry added. “I am not tweeting. I am not making speeches, nor is President Obama. We are committed to going to Vienna and engaging, and I will be leaving on Friday for those discussions.”
Earlier rounds of P5+1 talks have seen deadlines missed or extended, and in recent days some of the parties have raised the possibility that the June 30 deadline may again by missed, if only for a few days.
State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on reports that European members of the P5+1 are pressing for an extension, but he did say that “getting the right deal is better than the deadline itself.”
Late last month Obama signed legislation giving Congress the ability to review a final deal, which the administration is required to submit to lawmakers within five days of its completion.
Congress then has 30 days to review the agreement, during which period the president would be prohibited from ordering any sanctions relief.
If the agreement is concluded on June 30, that takes the required date for its submission to July 5. But if for any reason it is submitted any later than July 10, the review period is extended to 60 days, during which time Obama will, again, be unable to relieve sanctions on Iran.
During the review period – whether 30 or 60 days – Congress may vote on a joint resolution approving or disapproving the agreement.
A resolution of disapproval, unless killed by presidential veto and lacking the support needed to override such a veto, would threaten the entire agreement, since Iran’s main stated reason for negotiating is to have sanctions removed.