WASHINGTON: Iran is “forever” banned from building a nuclear weapon under an existing international treaty, top U.S. diplomat John Kerry said Wednesday, seeking to dismiss fears that limits on its program imposed in a new deal may eventually be lifted.
“Please understand, there is no reduction [of restrictions] at any time that permits Iran to build a nuclear weapon,” Kerry told U.S. lawmakers when pressed whether a deal with Tehran would eventually allow them to develop atomic arms.
“Iran is forever forbidden from building a nuclear weapon, that is the nature of membership in the Non-Proliferation Treaty which they are a member of.”
But California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Kerry that members of the panel have serious concerns about the direction of the talks.
“I’m hearing less about dismantlement and more about the performance of Iran’s nuclear program,” Royce told Kerry. “That’s particularly disturbing when you consider that international inspectors report that Iran has still not revealed its past bomb work.”
The secretary testified in the House two days after returning to Washington from the latest round of talks in Geneva involving Iran, the U.S. and five other powers. U.S. and Iranian officials reported progress on getting to a deal that would clamp down on Tehran’s nuclear activities for at least 10 years but would then slowly ease restrictions.
Royce said the U.N,’s International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concerns about the scope of Iranian military-related activities, including its work in designing a nuclear payload for a missile.“The IAEA inspectors have amassed over 1,000 pages which showed research, development and testing activity on technologies needed to develop a nuclear weapon,” the congressman said. “Of the 12 sets of questions that the IAEA has been seeking since 2011, Iran has answered part of one of them … They are withholding that information.”
Kerry agreed that Royce’s questions were legitimate and that Iran must answer them if it wants to have an agreement with the U.S. and its partners on a deal to curb its nuclear program.
He said Iran has complied with all the provisions of a first-step agreement, which launched the talks. “They agreed to roll back their program,” Kerry said. “I think that’s cause for hope.”
Wednesday was Kerry’s second appearance before Congress in as many days. As he did Tuesday in the Senate, Kerry told members of the House Foreign Relations Committee that it’s inappropriate to condemn what is in an agreement before anybody knows what it is – or even if there even will be a deal.
Negotiators are rushing to try to meet a March 31 deadline for a framework agreement that would keep Tehran from being able to develop nuclear weapons.