Menendez skeptical of easing sanctions in Iran

Feb. 4, 2014 at 1:35 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- A top U.S. Senate Democrat said he is concerned economic sanctions will expire before Tehran is forced to "dismantle large portions" of its nuclear program.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J. -- speaking as the committee opened a hearing Tuesday on a proposed deal calling for Iran to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions that have hampered Iranian economic growth -- said the Obama administration has "placed our incredibly effective international sanctions regime on the line without clearly defining the parameters of what we expect in a final agreement."

Menendez said he was concerned that the head of Iran's nuclear agency said in a recent interview "the iceberg of sanctions are melting, while our centrifuges are also still working. This is our greatest achievement."

"That may, in fact, be the Iranian end game," Menendez said. "They understand that once the international community ceases banking sanctions that they will have won regardless of whether or not we have a deal.

"At the end of the day, any final deal must require Iran to dismantle large portions of its nuclear infrastructure," he said. "Any final deal must address Iran's advanced centrifuge research and development activities that allow it to more quickly and more efficiently enrich uranium."

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman testified at the committee hearing said a combination of "tough diplomacy and the most comprehensive targeted sanctions regime ever imposed on a country" has resulted in progress toward the U.S. goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

She said the International Atomic Energy Agency verified Jan. 20 Iran has stopped some production of enriched uranium, disabled some of its centrifuge capacity and begun diluting existing stocks of enriched uranium, among other steps -- including providing further information to the IAEA and working with the agency to arrange "increased access to its nuclear facilities."

"You have rightfully asked why we should trust Iran to live up to these commitments," Sherman told Menendez. "As the president said, these negotiations do not rely on trust. Any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb."

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