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Rubio Presses Obama Administration on Willingness to Negotiate with Iran without Preconditions

Oct 4, 2013 | Press Releases

Discussion at Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing

Washington, D.C.

October 3, 2013


Senator Rubio: First of all, this is not a new issue for us as a country. Back in the 90s, I know you were involved with President Clinton in the North Korean experience. At the time, President Clinton was adamant that North Korea would not attain a nuclear capability. And of course they did. I raise that for the following question that I have. Let me preface it with this: There are five countries in the world that enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium, but they don’t have a weapon. Those countries are Germany, Japan, Brazil, Argentina and The Netherlands.  Then there are two other countries that enrich or reprocess but do have a weapon- North Korea and Pakistan. So I guess my first question is which one of these two types of countries does Iran look like the most? Does it look more like North Korea and Pakistan, or does it look more like Germany and Japan and Brazil and Argentina? Who do they resemble the most?

Honorable Wendy R. Sherman: Senator I’d make a couple comments. One, they resemble themselves. They are a sui generis case. In many ways more dangerous than any country who has the ability to reprocess, enrich, or has nuclear weapons or seeks to get nuclear weapons.

Senator Rubio: I understand they have a special case. They’re certainly different in some ways than North Korea and Pakistan, but I think you would agree that they don’t look anything like Germany, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, or the Netherlands.

Sherman: Of course not.

Senator Rubio: Okay, here’s why I’m asking that. The President at the UN General Assembly said that, we respect the right of the Iranian people, to quote, “access peaceful nuclear energy,” unquote. And that sounds innocuous enough. Now the President of Iran has said publicly that Iran’s right to enrichment is non-negotiable. So here’s my question: What is our position, what is our official position? Does Iran have a right to enrich uranium or to reprocess plutonium?

Sherman: So the President’s full comment on the quote that you gave is: “I have made clear we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place.” So the President has circumscribed what he means by the Iranian people having access — and that word was, as National Security Advisor Rice said on Fareed Zakaria was very carefully chosen — access, not right, but access to peaceful nuclear energy in the context of meeting its obligations.

Senator Rubio: So is it our position that Iran has the right to have access to uranium or plutonium for peaceful purposes, but they don’t have a right to enrich it or reprocess it themselves? Is that our position?

Sherman: It has always been the U.S. position, and I’ve said to my Iranian interlockers many times, Article 4 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not speak about the right of enrichment at all. Doesn’t speak to enrichment, period. It simply says that you have a right to research and development.  And many countries, including countries like Japan and Germany have taken that to be a right. But the United States does not take that position. We take the position that we look at each one of these — and more to the point, the UN Security Council resolution has suspended Iran’s enrichment until they meet their international obligations. They didn’t say they have suspended their right to enrichment. They have suspended their enrichment. So we not believe there is an inherent right by anyone to enrichment.

Senator Rubio: So no one has an inherent right to enrichment, although you’ve outlined a case of these countries that by your own admission don’t resemble Iran at all. So my question is this, again, because I understand our position is that they don’t have a right to it. But as we enter negotiations with Iran, why isn’t that our starting point? Why don’t we make it very clear? Because the president of Iran has made it very clear that in his opinion enrichment is non-negotiable. Why doesn’t the President say, as he has said on other issues that we’re facing now as a country, that he will not negotiate until a certain condition is met? He’s laid down those markers on some domestic disputes that we’re having now. So why doesn’t he enter the negotiation with Iran by simply saying ‘there is no negotiation until you give up your enrichment and your reprocessing capability —  because of the kind of country that you are,” as you’ve described?

Sherman: It’s very interesting Senator. I think it is President Rouhani actually qualified his own statement. He said we will not give up our capability to have enrichment, but we can discuss the details. So you know, a negotiation begins with everybody having their maximalist positions. And we have ours, too, which is they have to meet all of their obligations under the NPT and the UN Security Council resolutions. And they have their maximalist positions. And then you begin a negotiation.

Senator Rubio: Here’s my last question then: Will this President ever agree to ease sanctions in any negotiation that does not require Iran to abandon its enrichment and reprocessing capability?

Sherman: I’m not going to negotiate in public, Senator, with all due respect. All I can do is repeat what the President of the United States has said, which is, “we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy, in the context of Iran meeting its obligation. The tests will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions.”

Senator Rubio: My last question is that you are not able to say here today that it is impossible that there will never be an agreement to lower sanctions so long as Iran does not abandon its enrichment or its reprocessing capabilities?

Sherman: What I can say to you today is that Iran must meet the concerns of the international community, including the United States, and all of its obligations under the NPT and the UN Security Council resolutions, which has suspended its enrichment.