White House Rings in Start of Iran Nuke Agreement, Hails Its 'Strong and Disciplined Diplomacy'

The Obama administration hailed the first day of the interim nuclear agreement with Iran while quietly chiding Tehran over an invitation from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the Islamic Republic to join Geneva talks on Syria.

Syrian opposition figures threatened to pull out of the talks and the U.S. said Iran needs to endorse the end of Assad's rule in favor of a power-sharing transitional administration. Both parties also oppose Iran's continued supplying of arms and other support to Bashar Assad's regime.

"Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran has taken the initial specific steps it committed to on or by January 20th, as part of the Joint Plan of Action between the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, coordinated by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton), and Iran. As a result, implementation of the Joint Plan of Action will begin today," White House press secretary Jay Carney announced in a statement this morning.

"Specifically, the IAEA has verified in a written report and subsequent briefing for P5+1 technical experts, that Iran has, among other things, stopped producing 20% enriched uranium, has disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran has been using to produce it, has begun diluting its existing stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, and has not installed additional centrifuges at Natanz or Fordow.  These actions represent the first time in nearly a decade that Iran has verifiably enacted measures to halt progress on its nuclear program, and roll it back in key respects.  Iran has also begun to provide the IAEA with increased transparency into the Iranian nuclear program, through more frequent and intrusive inspections and the expanded provision of information to the IAEA.  Taken together, these concrete actions represent an important step forward," Carney continued.

But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) recently stressed that Iran has continued construction at the Arak heavy water reactor, has built additional centrifuges and admitted it has more than originally disclosed, and fired a rocket into space and showcased long-range ballistic missile capability. The Iranian parliament is also weighing a bill to increase uranium up to 60 percent, and the Iranian walkout from negotiations when the Treasury Department blacklisted 19 companies for evading sanctions last month demonstrated the regime’s “customary bluff-and-bluster techniques.”

Iran stressed that the P5+1 agreement let them proceed with their “new generation” centrifuges for “research purposes.”

"In reciprocation for Iran's concrete actions, the United States and its P5+1 partners - the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union -  will today follow through on our commitment to begin to provide the modest relief agreed to with Iran.  At the same time, we will continue our aggressive enforcement of the sanctions measures that will remain in place throughout this six-month period," Carney said.

"Following the actions taken today, the P5+1, EU, and Iran will also begin the process of negotiating a long-term, comprehensive solution that seeks to address the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program. The United States remains committed to using strong and disciplined diplomacy to reach a peaceful resolution that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said today is anything but a milestone.

"The U.S. now begins suspending its sanctions against Iran in return for limited nuclear concessions," Royce said. "While the positive economic impact on Iran will go beyond this relief, as foreign investors are rushing in, our leverage over Iran shrinks. Meanwhile, Iran's nuclear program continues."

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman left for Geneva today to launch the next round of talks.

"These actions today are significant steps in our efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "The coming negotiation to reach a comprehensive agreement that addresses all of the international community’s concerns will be even more complex, and we go into it clear-eyed about the difficulties ahead. But today’s events have made clear that we have an unprecedented opportunity to see if we can resolve this most pressing national security concern peacefully. That remains our goal, and that is our challenge ahead."

Yesterday, though, Psaki was expressing concern about Iran's underhanded actions in backing the Assad regime in a statement about the UN's extension of an invitation to Tehran for the Syria talks.

"The United States views the UN Secretary General’s invitation to Iran to attend the upcoming Geneva conference as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communique including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities. This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required," Psaki said.

"We also remain deeply concerned about Iran's contributions to the Assad regime's brutal campaign against its own people, which has contributed to the growth of extremism and instability in the region. If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded."

“We accept no precondition for participating in the Geneva II [conference] and, based on the official invitation, Iran will take part in the conference without preconditions,” Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said.

Badr Addin Jamous, the secretary general of the Syrian Coalition, said he believes Russia put pressure on the UN to invite Iran "to foil the conference."

"We cannot sit with the Iranians at the negotiating table because they have been taking part in the killing of the Syrian people," Jamous said.

Ban withdrew the offer later on Monday, with his spokesman saying the UN secretary-general "continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communiqué."