Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and EE foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at nuclear talks in Vienna March 19, 2014. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON - A senior Obama administration official says the president is prepared to consider "a wide range of options" should negotiations with Iran fail to reach a comprehensive agreement over its nuclear program.
"If talks break down, and if Iran is not negotiating in good faith, we are prepared to work with Congress to impose more sanctions," said Jake Sullivan, the deputy assistant to the president, when asked by The Jerusalem Post what the logic is behind revisiting sanctions policy should diplomacy fail in Vienna.
Sullivan addressed an audience at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which was hosting its annual forum. This year, the gathering focused on threats permeating from the Middle East.
"The logic behind that is that there is an opportunity to continue to sharpen the choice for Iran: they can either negotiate in good faith, and arrive at a resolution that resolves the international community's concerns about their program, or they are going to face mounting pressure," Sullivan added.
"We've also made clear that sanctions aren't the only tool available," he said. "As the situation unfolds, we're prepared to consider a very wide range of options."
Another speaker at the FDD forum was Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer. According to Dermer, Israel fears a bad deal is imminent between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.
Dermer said negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1— the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany— risked leaving Iran "a threshold nuclear power" that would move them back from "two months, where they are today, to maybe two or three months further" from a nuclear weapon.
"They cheated in Natanz," Dermer told the group, warning Western powers against— in exchange for time— extensive dismantlement of its sanctions infrastructure on Iran. "They cheated in Qom."
Also speaking to the forum at the Mandarin Oriental, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, spoke in the past tense of what successful policy on Iran might look like.
"Failure is anything short of having a verifiable way to dismantle the nuclear weapons program, Royce said. "Failure would be allowing Iran to proceed with an [intercontinental ballistic missile] program."
"Success," he said, "would have been to pass that legislation."
Royce was referring to legislation passed over the summer through the House of Representatives, by 400 to 20, to further sanction Iran's oil sector. The conservative think tank, FDD, was at the table in the drafting of the bill.
Two months after that legislation passed, direct talks began between Iran and the United States in New York, and continued in Geneva shortly thereafter.
Reacting to the shift, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) adapted the legislation to include a trigger for sanctions should the P5+1 talks fail to achieve a comprehensive solution to the impasse.
The bill, however, drew a veto threat from US President Barack Obama, who warned that new sanctions legislation would derail negotiations. Senate leadership has declined to bring Menendez' bill to the floor for debate.
On Thursday, Menendez told FDD that he stands by the bill, suggesting its passage will "prevent a set of circumstances" in which Obama, or his successor, will face a stark dilemma: acceptance of a nuclear Iran, or war.
"No one wants a diplomatic solution more than I do. But it cannot be a deal for a deal's sake," Menendez said. "And I am worried they want a deal more than they want the right deal."
Before that time, Menendez suggested that his "trigger" sanctions bill might be revisited.
"I think that time may be coming soon," the chairman added.
Speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, Sullivan said the White House will only accept a deal that "effectively constrains" the potential for Iranian nuclear breakout.
"Think about where we would be without the [Joint Plan of Action]," Sullivan said, adding that Obama will not pass on an "enforceable" nuclear deal in pursuit of an "unachievable ideal."