On Iran nuclear agreement, no one agrees on proximity to a deal

Research and development, access to Parchin military base remain sticking points; Full P5+1 will meet Wednesday on Swiss Riviera.

By
March 17, 2015 17:24
3 minute read.
US Secretary of State John Kerry.

US Secretary of State John Kerry walks around the grounds of the Beau-Rivage hotel during a break in negotiations with Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif over Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne March 17, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Iranian officials are expressing hope that a political framework agreement with world powers on its nuclear program is at hand, after a series of shuttle negotiations with Western diplomats in Lausanne and Brussels.

“The main issues have been closed,” Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akhbar Salehi, told Iranian journalists at a palace on the shores of Lake Geneva on Tuesday. “I hope that in the remaining time we can close this.”

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But officials from France and the United States are issuing more tenuous statements, questioning the enthusiasm of Iran’s delegation on the second day of talks here in Switzerland.

Officials tell The Jerusalem Post not to expect an agreement by the end of the week, despite hopes in Iran that talks may reach a conclusion by the Persian holiday of Nowruz.

“Important points remain which are not resolved,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday.

After an hours-long morning round of discussions, one senior American official said that “tough choices” remain for Tehran before a deal – on “big-picture” issues such as the pace of international sanctions relief, the breadth of nuclear inspections and the length of a nuclear deal – could be signed and announced.

Negotiators from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany hope to reach a political deal by March 31, framing a comprehensive accord by the end of June.

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Among the remaining sticking points, Washington is demanding that inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency be granted access to Parchin, Iran’s military facility suspected of housing its research program on nuclear weapons technology. Iran has thus far refused that access, and has not expressed willingness to cooperate with the IAEA on its investigation into possible military dimensions to its nuclear work.

“There is no way around it – we still have a ways to go,” one US official told gathered press.

“Even within this space, we have some tough issues to address.”

Media organizations grew in number on Tuesday around the Beau-Rivage Palace, overlooking Europe’s largest lake alongside the official center of the Olympics. Journalists have been granted limited access inside the palace itself, where diplomats are meeting in gilded, red-upholstered rooms.

The sight of Iranian and American flags standing side by side no longer prompts news stories or posts on Twitter, as negotiators are well into their second year discussing how best to cap, restrict, monitor and roll back aspects of Iran’s vast nuclear program, spanning 19,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges across multiple sites, plus a heavy-water plutonium facility.

For a second day in a row, Iran’s delegates confronted their US counterparts on the tenets of a letter sent by Senate Republicans to Tehran.

The letter warned Iran that any executive agreement without the consent of Congress could be unwound by future presidents or amended by Congress itself.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is leading talks here in Lausanne with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has called the letter “unprecedented” and “unconstitutional,” though he has refused to apologize to Iran over the letter on behalf of the US government.

In recent days, statements from the Iranian government have suggested growing desire for a deal, though some of its more conservative leaders continue to express concern over entering any agreement with the West. On Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani told local press that a deal would be in the interests of Iran, the region and the world.

But it has been France’s foreign minister who has emerged with perhaps the least optimistic perspective, questioning whether Iran can get to yes on a deal which Paris finds acceptable.

“It’s always useful to talk, but we, the French, want a solid deal,” Fabius said. “Certain points are yet to be resolved. We hope we will be able to resolve them; but as long as it’s not done, it’s not done.”

Talks along the Swiss Riviera have been bilateral, between delegates from Iran and the US. They will expand on Wednesday to include diplomats from the European Union, Russia and China.

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