Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Negotiations between the US and Iran over its nuclear program are at a critical stage as their top diplomats meet in Geneva this week.
Gunning toward a March 31 deadline for a political framework agreement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Sunday for yet another round of intensive talks.
The US seeks a deal that would provide Iran with peaceful nuclear power while guaranteeing its program cannot be weaponized. But while such guarantees would rely on inspections and verification measures enforced by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, that very organization raised questions last week over Iran’s willingness to comply, in a confidential report.
Iran has still not addressed specific questions from the agency over whether it explored the weaponization process in the past, according to the report, which notes that Tehran is continuing to refuse full cooperation in two areas of the long-running investigation.
Diplomats at the table with Iran from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have voiced concern over the IAEA’s most recent report, as well as its past reports, which detailed similar findings.
Western officials say any deal with Iran will be based on their ability to strictly verify Iranian compliance.
And yet, Israel, which is deeply skeptical of a proposed framework presented to Iran by negotiating powers, suggested this weekend that the report was evidence of Tehran’s lack of interest in a genuinely peaceful outcome from the talks.
“The IAEA report again notes that Iran is refusing to reveal to the world its preparations for the production of nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Iran insists on hiding this from the international community at a time when the major powers are continuing to try and allow Iran to produce the core of such weapons – enriched uranium. These do not go together.”
“The major powers do not need to court Iran to agree to accept the possibility of producing nuclear weapons even as the latter refuses to divulge the details of the preparations for its nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu continued.
In an interview with The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz suggested that Israel fears the pending deal will include a sunset clause of roughly 10 years.
“You’re saying, okay, in 10 or 12 years Iran might be a different country,” he said, characterizing the American position. “If you agree to freeze for 10 years, that’s enough for [the United States].”
But “to believe that in the next decade there will be a democratic change in leadership and that Iran won’t threaten the US or Israel anymore, I think this is too speculative,” Steinitz continued. “Iran is part of the problem and not part of the solution – unless you think Iran dominating the Middle East is the solution.”
The Obama administration has characterized Israeli leaks of details from the talks – not dissimilar to those discussed by Steinitz – as strategic “cherry-picking,” not reflective of the reality inside Europe’s negotiating rooms.
That may be because, for months, Washington and its allies have withheld details of the talks from Israel, US officials acknowledged last week.
“It sounds like he knows more than the negotiators,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week of Netanyahu’s critiques, adding, “there is no deal yet.”
“We think it’s important to get a good deal with Iran and with the P5+1, and that will not only make the United States safer, it will make Israel safer,” Psaki said.