State Dep't on Iran Deal: 'Honestly Don't Think We Know What Will Happen'

Susan Jones | March 30, 2015 | 8:23am EDT
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From left, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz wait to start a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

( - Iran has never agreed to ship its enriched uranium stockpiles to another country, not even "tentatively," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday.

Dismantling stockpiles of nuclear fuel is a key element of the agreement that the Obama administration is trying to reach with Iran, and time is running out to reach such an agreement.

"Well, I just honestly don't think we know what will happen here," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told the program. "What we're really focused on here on the ground in Switzerland is these next 24 hours. They're very crucial. We're really seeing what we can get done, if we can get to an agreement...and if we can't, we will take a very hard look at what comes next."

The deadline for a broad agreement is midnight Tuesday, and it's a "real deadline," Harf said.

According to the New York Times, Iranian negotiators on Sunday said they are no longer willing to ship their enriched uranium stockpiles to Russia, to put them out of reach.

Harf on Monday called the report "inaccurate."

"Obviously stockpiling and what happens to it and how Iran gets rid of it is a key part of this possible agreement we're trying to get to. But the notion that we had some agreement that in the last 24 hours Iran has backed away from, just is factually inaccurate," Harf said.

"There's never been agreement on that. We've been talking with them about a couple different ways they could do it. And we'll see if we can get to agreement in the next 24 hours or so."

The options for Iran include shipping its enriched uranium stockpiles to another country or diluting it in Iran. "We and Iran have not come to agreement on that, even tentatively," Harf said. "So the notion that in the last 24 hours there was some breakdown in that agreement on that issue just isn't accurate."

Can there still be a deal if Iran refuses to export any of its enriched uranium? Harf was asked.

"Absolutely," she replied. "Look, what's important here when it comes to the stockpile is that we're able to get rid of it. Because that's part of this bigger equation that leads us to a (one)-year breakout time (the time it would take Iran to develop a nuclear weapon). Part of that equation is centrifuge numbers, part of that equation is what kind of things they're still allowed to do when it comes to research and development.

"So, yes, there is a formula, using a variety of different ways, that we can get to our goal here. We don't know if we will -- we don't know if we'll be able to do that in the next 24 hours. But we definitely still can, absolutely."

According to Harf, the March 31 deadline for agreeing on a deal "is a real deadline."

"So we have been very clear -- we're not going to take a bad deal. And we don't know if we'll get there in the next 24 hours. Obviously, we believe that Congress should not act while we negotiate. They should let our negotiators try to do their jobs, but if the Iranians can't make the decisions they need to, regardless of what Congress does, we can't get to an agreement here."

The negotiations with Iran have been going on since September 2013, and Harf said they don't get any easier with the passage of time:

"So we really need to see from the Iranians if they're willing to get to yes here. We have put on the table proposals and ideas that meet our bottom line, which should be acceptable to them if, as they say, they only want a peaceful nuclear program."

Harf said diplomacy is the best way to handle things, "but we have other options if can't get this done diplomatically, and we'll see where we are."

House Speaker John Boehner told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that he has "serious doubts" about whether the Obama administration will be able to reach a deal with Iran.

"I had serious doubts over the last year whether there could be an agreement, and I still have serious doubts. We have got a regime that's never quite kept their word about anything. I just don't understand why we would sign an agreement with a group of people who, in my opinion, have no intention of keeping their word."

And if there is no agreement by March 31, Boehner said he would act "very quickly" to boost sanctions against Iran.

"Listen, the sanctions were working," Boehner said. "They would have never come to the table. And, frankly, we should have kept the sanctions in place, so that we could have gotten to a real agreement. And the sanctions are going to come, and they're going to come quick."

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