By Mick Krever, CNN
As long as Iran continues to enrich uranium the United States should not suspend its Iran sanctions, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
Landmark direct negotiations between the two countries are set to continue on Thursday in Geneva.
“What I do not understand is a negotiating posture in which we suspend our actions, we give them sanctions relief on existing sanctions, yet they continue to be able to enrich, to be able to have more sophisticated centrifuges,” Menendez said.
Details of negotiation have been kept under tight wraps.
But in broad strokes, Iran – under the leadership of newly elected President Hassan Rouhani – is seeking massive sanctions relief; the United States and its negotiating partners want to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
“The only reason we’re in these negotiations is because of the sanctions that I and others have offered,” Menendez said, adding that he was trying to avoid military conflict.
“Why is it impossible to simply accept, get Iran to accept, that it suspend?” he asked. “It’s not rolling back its 20 percent, or 3.5 percent enrichment. It’s not reducing its centrifuges. Why can you not simply suspend in order to have the negotiation that you want? That would be a good-faith effort.”
Paul Pillar, a former CIA officer with nearly 30 years’ experience in the U.S. intelligence community, told Amanpour on Wednesday that action from either side would come about as part of a package deal.
“We would not expect the Iranians to expect from us to simply start taking sanctions off unilaterally,” Pillar said, “and we should not expect from them to simply start stopping aspects of their nuclear program unilaterally.”
Menendez indicated he hadn’t seen anything concrete being discussed.
“I haven’t heard anything substantive on the table,” he said. “All I’ve heard is that the tone and tenor, and the directness, has been different.”
There has been some discussion in foreign policy circles about the idea the President Obama may be able to offer some sanctions relief himself, without new legislation from Congress – a so-called “national security” waiver.
“There are provisions in the laws that we already passed on sanctions to have waivers that the president can certify to Congress,” Menendez said.
“And I would be willing to say that if we can get Iran to suspend its present activities as we move forward with what I hope will be fruitful negotiations, that any new round of sanctions would say that they could be ceased immediately upon Iran meeting its verifiable actions under the Security Council resolutions.”