Kerry sees ‘finite’ time for Iran nuclear talks

IAEA chief says granting access to Parchin site would help Iran show its willingness to engage.

By REUTERS
March 5, 2013 00:59
3 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, February 20, 2012

kerry370. (photo credit: Screenshot)

 
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Israel welcomed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on Monday in Riyadh that there was not infinite time for talks to bear fruit between Iran and world powers over Teheran’s nuclear program.

“That sort of language is echoing our thoughts as well,” one Israeli government official said. He added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the only thing the recently concluded round of discussions in Kazakhstan achieved was to allow the Iranians to stall for more time.

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Kerry did not, however, hint in his comments how long Washington would be willing to continue to negotiate with the Iranians.

Kerry’s statement about a “finite” time for the talks was picked up by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who said that the negotiations cannot be endless like the debates of philosophers over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

“There is a finite amount of time,” Kerry, in the Saudi capital Riyadh on his first overseas trip as the top US diplomat, said of the talks between a group of six world powers and Tehran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional adversary.

Kerry was speaking at a news conference with Prince Saud al-Faisal, who suggested Iran was not showing enough seriousness about the discussions, which he said “cannot go on forever.”

Iran was positive last week after talks with the powers in Kazakhstan about its nuclear work ended with an agreement to meet again. But Western officials said it had yet to do anything concrete to allay their concerns about its nuclear aspirations.



The United States, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany offered modest relief from economic sanctions in return for Iran reining in its most sensitive nuclear activity but made clear that no breakthrough was in the offing quickly.

“We can’t be like the philosophers who keep talking about how many angels a pinhead can hold,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said.

“They (the Iranians) have not proved to anybody the urgency in their negotiation,” he said. “They reach common understanding only on issues that require further negotiation.

And so this is what (has) worried us.”

One Israeli official said he was not surprised by the comments. “The Arab states are just as concerned about a nuclear Iran as we are,” he said. “When it comes to Iran, there is no Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Making his first trip abroad as secretary of state, Kerry also met Saudi Crown Prince Salman but a US official said he would not see Saudi King Abdullah, who turns 90 this year.

Kerry said a diplomatic solution on Iran is still preferred by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

In 2008, Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington said King Abdullah had repeatedly urged Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” by striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

“We both prefer – and this is important for Iranians to hear and understand – we both prefer diplomacy as the first choice, the preferred choice,” Kerry said. “But the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot by definition remain open indefinitely.”

Echoing Western concerns about a possible nuclear arms race in the Middle East in the event that Iran obtained a nuclear bomb, Kerry made a series of arguments for Gulf Arab countries not to pursue a military nuclear capability.

These included standing US policy to prevent Iran from acquiring such arms, the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the diversion of resources that could otherwise go to economic development, and the general trend by the United States and Russia toward reducing their doomsday arsenals.

“The threat is not just the threat of a nuclear bomb, the threat is also the threat of a dirty bomb or of nuclear material being used by terrorists,” said Kerry.

In December 2011, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al- Faisal said that if Tehran did gain nuclear weapons capability, Saudi Arabia should consider matching it.

Riyadh has also announced plans to develop 17 gigawatts of atomic energy by 2032 as it moves to reduce domestic oil consumption, freeing up more crude for export.

In Vienna on Monday, the UN nuclear watchdog raised pressure on Iran to finally address suspicions that it has sought to design an atomic bomb, calling for swift inspector access to a military base where relevant explosives tests are believed to have been carried out.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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