Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top adviser on international affairs, smiles at the government palace in Beirut.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Nuclear talks between Iran and the United States intensified over the weekend in Geneva, one month ahead of a deadline for a comprehensive nuclear deal.
Two major sticking points remain that are matters of political will: Whether Iran will allow international inspectors access to military sites suspected of hosting nuclear weaponization programs, and whether all five permanent members of the UN Security Council will agree on a mechanism that can snap sanctions back in place should Iran be found in violation of the deal.
No progress was reported from the talks in Geneva on the question of access to Iran’s military facilities – specifically Parchin, which both France and the US have said is a necessary component of any final accord.
Iran has repeatedly ruled out “alien” inspections into any of its military facilities, characterizing such demands a violation of its sovereignty.
“Inspection of military installations has never been on the agenda in our negotiations,” Hamid Ba’eedinejad, a senior negotiator for Iran, was quoted as saying by state-run Press TV. “As we have made it very clear, we never accepted that there could be inspections from the military sites in our country.”
Paris, in particular, has been vocal in its demand that Iran open its sites to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, who have sought access for years in their efforts to complete a preliminary report.
But on Sunday, an aide to Iran’s supreme leader said that, “France does not play any determining role on the international scene other than the harsh statements.”
The aide, Ali Akbar Velayati, suggested France’s rhetoric was intended for an audience in the Arab world.
Progress was reported, however, on efforts to unify the P5+1 – the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – on a snapback mechanism, Reuters reported, without specifying details.
But the report repeated what has been public knowledge since the parties agreed to a political framework in Lausanne back on April 2: Noncompliance by Iran would be determined by a joint commission, which would then independently rule on the significance of Tehran’s violations.
Experts from the US and Iran have been working virtually non-stop since the Lausanne agreement was announced, US officials say, and believe that a deal can be sealed by June 30.
While Iranian officials say the deadline is not “sacred,” the Obama administration believes that Iran has the time it needs to make the remaining political choices necessary – and that the technical work on a final print document can be completed within the time remaining.
But another possible derailment came after US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva on Saturday, as Washington’s top diplomat crashed his bicycle when attempting to navigate a sharp turn.
The secretary broke his right femur, near the location of a previous operation on his hip, and would fly back to Boston for treatment aboard a medical transport plane, his office said.
Recovery time for such an accident depends on a host of factors, including age, fitness and aspects of the injury that were not immediately made public by the State Department.
The secretary is 71 years old.
In a statement, State Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said that the secretary plans to make a “full recovery.” But his personal, physical role on the ground in the talks may be at risk given the proximity of the deadline.
Iran’s diplomatic corps is next to travel to Moscow for talks with their Russian counterparts on June 4.
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