The United States will seek penalties against Iran in future, comprehensive nuclear talks that would automatically trigger should Iran fail to comply with the agreement’s tenets, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Sunday.
Speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes, Rice said that economic sanctions would be simple to reinstate if Iran violated a final nuclear agreement the US aims to codify at the United Nations.
The conversation was in the hypothetical, however, as negotiations over a final-status nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran have yet to begin.
Technical talks are still underway between Iran and the P5+1 powers – the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – aimed at temporarily halting Iran’s nuclear program for a minimum of six months.
“We haven’t designed that resolution yet. But this is something that’s quite doable,” Rice said.
The United States does not want Iran to be “in a position to race towards a bomb undetected,” she added.
Any UN Security Council resolution that enshrines a final nuclear deal with Iran – not the interim six-month deal signed in Geneva in November – could have “automatic triggers” to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it violates the deal, Rice said.
“We will not construct a deal or accept a deal in which we cannot verify exactly what they are doing,” Rice said. “And if they’re caught, we will ensure that the pressure is reimposed on them.”
Rice’s comments came three days after a bipartisan group of 26 senators proposed a bill that would trigger sanctions should Iran fail to comply with the “first step” deal already reached in Geneva last month.
The bill grants US President Barack Obama up to a year to negotiate with Iran before sanctions are triggered.
Those sanctions include harsh new penalties against countries still importing Iranian oil, including allies, requiring they cut at least 30 percent of their purchases within months of their implementation.
That might adversely impact countries previously granted sanctions waivers, the White House warns, such as Japan, South Korea and China – a member of the P5+1 talks and currently supportive of US efforts.
One Senate aide familiar with the proposed legislation said the bill was held for six months, at the request of the White House.
If passed and enacted without any obstruction, it would take at least a year-and-a-half to produce any effect – a prime example of the difficulty of sanctions enforcement, he argued.
Compare that to the amount of time Iran would need to build a nuclear warhead, should it choose to do so.
“Based on Iran’s current stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 and 20 percent and its current centrifuge capacity, Iran could produce a sufficient quantity of weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in one to two months’ time,” the bill reads.
Rice said it was still unclear if Iran was hurting enough from existing sanctions on its oil exports and other industries to give up its nuclear ambitions in a “verifiable way.”
“We don’t know. But the other half of the answer is we have every interest in testing that proposition,” she said.
While Obama administration officials continue to insist on verification measures that will keep Iran accountable to the Geneva accord, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani penned a letter on Monday calling for trust-building between his nation and the West.
“We want to rebuild and improve our relations to European and North American countries on a basis of mutual respect,” he wrote in a contribution for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
Rouhani was elected on a platform promising economic relief and improved relations with the West.
“We are striving to avoid new burdens on relations between Iran and the United States,” Rouhani continued, “and also to remove the tensions that we have inherited.”
Iranian officials subsequently emphasized the call was to support a diplomatic resolution of Iran’s nuclear program and did not concern direct bilateral ties.
Two months later Iran and world powers signed an interim deal to curb part of Iran’s nuclear activities in return for some sanctions relief.
“We have never even considered the option of acquiring nuclear weapons,” Rouhani said. “We’ll never give up our right to profit from nuclear energy. But we are working towards removing all doubts and answer[ing] all reasonable questions about our program.”
Technical talks in Geneva paused for the holidays on Sunday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said there was still much work to be done, but that the group was “moving forward slowly.”