By Jamie Crawford
An interim agreement that freezes aspects of Iran's nuclear program is not ideal but is necessary to achieve a long-term accord, a senior Obama administration official said Tuesday.
"This is not perfect, but this does freeze and roll back their program in significant ways and give us time on the clock to in fact negotiate that comprehensive agreement," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sherman, along with Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen, testified about the six-month deal negotiated between Iran and the United States and five other world powers to halt parts of Iran's disputed nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.
In her testimony, Sherman repeatedly stressed the interim deal was "merely a first step" to a more comprehensive final agreement.
Many members of Congress, including a number of Democrats, are pushing for legislation that would impose additional sanctions against Tehran to ensure that every aspect of the interim deal is implemented and that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.
The Obama administration has vowed to veto any new sanctions for the duration of the interim deal to allow for diplomatic breathing room.
"If all we achieve is the essence of an early-warning system of Iran's future breakout ability, and the sanctions regime has collapsed, and the only options for this or any future President will be to accept a nuclear-armed Iran or a military option, in my view, that is not in the national security interest of the United States," said Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said.
While senators argued the interim agreement does not renounce a right for Iran to enrich uranium, while allowing for some relief from the sanctions that have choked its economy, administration officials maintain intense pressure remains.
"Over the six-month duration of the joint plan, Iran's struggling economy will continue to be buffeted by sanctions, as the core sanctions architecture remains firmly in place," Cohen said in his testimony.
"In short, the continuing impact of our sanctions and the accumulative impact of those sanctions means that the Iranian economy will continue to massively under perform for the foreseeable future," he said.
But the travel of various business delegations to Iran since the interim agreement took effect, along with a recent report that Russia was implementing an oil-for-goods deal with Iran to ease the economic burden from sanctions has been gaining traction for opponents of the deal.
"At all levels of our government, including at the highest level, we have raised our concerns quite directly with Russia about this," Sherman said. "My own sense is that it is not moving forward at this time."
Many members of the committee were critical of the administration's handling of the deal with Iran, but expressed a willingness to figure out a way to work together on the issue.
But not everyone agreed the current deal had a high chance of success.
"I think this thing's a disaster," Sen. Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, told Sherman. "I think it - I was stunned when I saw what the - what the agreement was."