Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew defended the U.S. pursuit of a nuclear agreement with Iran, over the jeers of some Israel supporters, saying economic sanctions would be reimposed if Iran breaks the terms the potential deal.
“This snapback mechanism will give us crucial leverage to ensure that Iran remains in compliance for years after any agreement is reached,” Lew said at a Jerusalem Post conference Sunday in New York.
“If we reach an agreement and Iran ends up flouting its obligations, we will know, and we will have preserved all our options -- including economic and military measures -- to make sure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said in a speech defending the proposed deal.
Lew, the first Orthodox Jew to be U.S. Treasury chief, was heckled by some attendees after comments such as “no administration has done more for Israel’s security than this one.” At one point, a moderator broke in and asked the crowd to stop interrupting. The audience applauded when he listed details of U.S. support to Israel, including $20 billion in military aid under the Obama administration.
“Make no mistake, we are not operating on an assumption that Iran will act in good faith,” Lew said. “This deal will only be finalized if the connective tissue of the agreement meets a tough standard of intense verification and scrutiny.”
A final agreement will have to address concerns about a potential covert nuclear weapon program, Lew said.
As a June 30 deadline approaches, diplomats are drafting the final text of an accord with Iran that would relax international sanctions in return for caps on its nuclear program and more transparent inspections of atomic sites.
Sanctions relief under a final agreement would only be granted in phases, after Iran meets agreed-upon benchmarks, Lew said.
“Right now, Iran is two to three months away from acquiring a bomb’s worth of nuclear material,” Lew said, using the U.S. government’s estimate. “Under the agreement we are pursuing, for at least 10 years, Iran will be kept at least one year away from having enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon and will have no path to developing a bomb using plutonium.”
Snapback provisions wouldn’t be limited to U.S. sanctions, according to Lew.
“We are still developing the exact mechanisms by which sanctions stemming from United Nations Security Council resolutions would be re-imposed,” he said. Lew said he didn’t want the provision to be subject to a veto by Security Council members, including China or Russia.
The mixed reaction to Lew’s speech underscores the divisiveness among Israel supporters in the U.S. of the Obama administration’s pursuit of an Iran nuclear deal. After Lew concluded, a conference organizer apologized from the lectern.
“For a minute there, I thought I was in the Knesset,” said Steve Linde, editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, referring to Israel’s sometimes raucous legislature. “Booing the secretary is not respectful.”