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Obama, seeing Iran progress, hints at more time
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 16, 2014

US senators seek 20-year inspection of Iran nuclear program
Washington (AFP) July 15, 2014 - Key US lawmakers, reduced to outside observers of the closed-door nuclear negotiations with Iran in Vienna, are demanding that any final agreement include decades of international inspections of Tehran's atomic program.

"A final agreement with Iran must put in place a long-term inspections and verification regime that lasts at least 20 years," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez and hawkish Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a letter they intend to send to President Barack Obama this week and were circulating on Tuesday.

Several other lawmakers are likely to sign on to pressure the executive branch to stand tough as the Sunday deadline in Vienna nears for striking a historic nuclear deal between Iran and six major world powers including the United States.

"Inspections by the IAEA (the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency) must be intrusive, with Iran allowing IAEA inspectors access to any and all facilities, persons or documentation," the senators added.

Another condition: total transparency by Tehran over any possible military dimension to its atomic program.

"Iran must come clean," they wrote to the president. "Only once Iran has provided full details about its nuclear program can it begin to receive comprehensive sanctions relief."

Finally, the lifting of sanctions, which have punished Iran's economy in recent years, must be "phased in over a lengthy period," and all consequences for Iran's non-compliance or breach must be stipulated in the agreement, they said.

The House of Representatives last week sent a letter to Obama, signed by 342 of the chamber's 435 members, saying Congress will agree to easing sanctions on the Islamic republic only if it verifiably ends its support for international terrorism and stops its advancing ballistic missile program and other unconventional weapons.

Congress in December and January stopped short of imposing further sanctions against Iran, with the White House opposed to tightening the punishments for fear the move would derail the historic talks.

Lawmakers are adamant that any gradual rollback of Iran sanctions by Obama be approved first by Congress.

Menendez said he is prepared to wait up until the Sunday deadline to allow negotiations to bear fruit in Vienna, or see whether participants end up extending the talks by several weeks or even months, as diplomats have signalled might happen.

"I'm all for trying to see an agreement happen," Menendez told reporters Tuesday.

"But if they're not close, I'm not for extending for extension's sake."

In a speech on the Senate floor, Menendez warned that mothballing Iran's existing centrifuges rather than dismantling them would not be good enough for lawmakers to roll back sanctions.

"If Iran wants relief from sanctions, then it needs to tangibly demonstrate to the world that it is giving up its quest for nuclear weapons. Period," Menendez said.

US President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday that talks with Iran on its nuclear program may need to extend beyond a weekend deadline, saying negotiations have shown a "credible way forward."

Obama said he was consulting with Congress -- where there is strong criticism of his quest for a diplomatic deal with Iran -- as negotiators meet in Vienna ahead of Sunday's expiration of a temporary deal.

"It's clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward. But as we approach a deadline under the interim deal, there are still significant gaps between the international community and Iran and we have more work to do," Obama told reporters.

"So over the next few days, we'll continue consulting with Congress and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations."

- Iran has 'met its commitments' -

Iran has "met its commitments" under the interim agreement, including halting progress of its nuclear program and allowing more inspections, Obama said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest earlier appeared to prepare the political ground for an extension of talks, saying that many people had been "pretty skeptical" about Iran but found "legitimate discussion and constructive engagement."

"It is clear that their track record over the last six months, I think many people would acknowledge, has been surprisingly favorable," Earnest said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has led criticism of the nuclear deal, accusing Iran of insincerity and not ruling out an attack.

US lawmakers, who are widely supportive of Israel, have threatened to ramp up sanctions without a rigorous agreement.

Senator Robert Menendez, a member of Obama's Democratic Party who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for an accord that dismantles Iran's nuclear program in a way that is verifiable for 20 to 30 years.

"The fact is Iran's nuclear aspirations have been a long and deliberate process. They did not materialize overnight, and they will not end simply with a good word and a handshake We need verification," Menendez said Tuesday.

"In my view, through its history, through its actions, through its false words and deeds for decades, Iran has forgone the ability for us to shake on a deal that freezes their program."

- Hardliners on both sides -

Iran's negotiators in turn face pressure from hardliners, who view the United States as the ultimate enemy and oppose any agreement seen as a concession.

Obama was speaking after he met with Secretary of State John Kerry, who reported progress after he joined the talks in Vienna to speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif, a member of President Hassan Rouhani's reform-minded administration, is looking for a historic agreement that would relieve Western sanctions that have severely impacted the Islamic republic's economy and perhaps start to repair Iran's fraught relationship with the United States.

Iran insists it is not seeking the atomic bomb but has stayed firm on its right to peaceful use of nuclear energy in the talks with six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Under an interim agreement reached in November, Iran froze its uranium enrichment in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.

Tehran and Washington have pursued exhaustive talks on the nuclear deal -- itself a dramatic turnaround in relations for two countries that had virtually no official communication since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, which toppled the Western-oriented shah.


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US, Iran lay ground for nuclear talks extension
Vienna (AFP) July 15, 2014
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