In Munich, talks with Iran broaden beyond the nuclear file

Tehran's foreign minister warns Kerry that outcome of nuclear agreement will affect Rouhani's presidency.

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February 7, 2015 19:29
4 minute read.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON – Failure to clinch a multilateral agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program will undermine the leadership of President Hassan Rouhani, considered a pragmatist relative to Iran’s political spectrum, the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister warned US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday.

At a security conference in Munich, the two leaders met to discuss ongoing negotiations over the nuclear program – and that program only, according to American officials.

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But the warning from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif underscored core motivations driving Western diplomats in the talks: a desire for realignment of Tehran toward cooperation with Washington elsewhere in the region, from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Lebanon.

That is a departure from their original goal, set explicitly at the beginning of negotiations, to end Iran’s nuclear program thoroughly and permanently.

Zarif’s acknowledgment of US influence in Iranian politics is rare. The 1979 revolution, and the regime born from it, was a sweeping rejection of American involvement in the country’s domestic affairs. Today, politicians within the country fiercely debate whether to accept a nuclear deal – or any deal – with the regime’s oldest foe.

But reports began surfacing last week that the Obama administration is offering Iran technical concessions on its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for Iran’s use of its leverage to tamper regional turmoil.

After meeting for more than two hours with Kerry, Zarif said that discussions focused on how sanctions would be lifted how many uranium-enriching centrifuges would remain.



Zarif also met with European Union high representative Federica Mogherini, who said publicly that the time is ripe to reach an agreement.

The two acknowledged conversations went beyond the nuclear issue and covered the conflicts embroiling much of the Middle East.

A statement from Zarif’s office denied that Iran’s domestic political concerns were a topic of conversation in Munich, though the discussion was acknowledged by several Western officials.

“As Rouhani is on the front line, naturally he will be more harmed,” said one of the officials, who has direct knowledge of Zarif’s discussions with Kerry.

The warning that a breakdown in talks would empower Iran’s hard-liners comes as the 12-year-old nuclear standoff reaches a crucial phase, with a March deadline to reach a political agreement ahead of a final deal by June 30.

State Department officials say the US intends to meet the March deadline.

“Within a very short time, the P5+1 might conclude a dangerous deal enabling Iran to produce nuclear weapons that would threaten the survival of Israel,” sources in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in response. “Prime Minister Netanyahu believes it is his obligation to speak out about this grave threat to the Jewish state while there is still time to stop a bad deal.”

Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.Failure to clinch a multilateral agreement over Iran's nuclear program will undermine the leadership of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, considered a pragmatist relative to Iran's political spectrum, Tehran's foreign minister warned US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday.

At a security conference in Munich, the two leaders met to discuss ongoing negotiations over the nuclear program— and that program only, according to American officials. But the warning from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif underscored core motivations driving Western diplomats in the talks: The realignment of Tehran towards cooperation with Washington elsewhere in the region, from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Lebanon.

That is a departure from their original goal, set explicitly at the beginning of negotiations, to dismember Iran's nuclear program thoroughly and permanently.

Rare is Zarif's acknowledgment of US influence in Iranian politics: The 1979 revolution, and the regime born from it, was a sweeping rejection of American involvement in Iran's domestic affairs. Today, politics within the country fiercely debate whether to accept a nuclear deal— or any deal— with the government's oldest foe.

But reports began surfacing last week that the Obama administration is offering Iran technical concessions on its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for Iran's use of its leverage to tamper regional turmoil.

Meeting for over two hours with Kerry, Zarif said that discussions focused on how sanctions will be lifted once a deal is reached, and how many uranium-enriching centrifuges will remain.

Zarif also met with European Union high representative Federica Mogherini, who said publicly that the time was ripe to reach an agreement. The two acknowledged conversations went beyond the nuclear file and covered the conflicts embroiling much of the Middle East.

A statement from Zarif's office denied that Iran's domestic political concerns were a topic of conversation in Munich, though the discussion was acknowledged by several Western officials.

"As Rouhani is on the frontline, naturally he will be more harmed," said one of the officials, who has direct knowledge of Zarif's discussions with Kerry.

The warning that a breakdown in talks would empower Iran's conservative hardliners comes as the 12-year-old stand-off reaches a crucial phase, with a March deadline to reach a political agreement ahead of a final deal by June 30.

State Department officials say the US intends on meeting the March deadline.

"Within a very short time, the P5+1 might conclude a dangerous deal enabling Iran to produce nuclear weapons that would threaten the survival of Israel," sources in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in response. "Prime Minister Netanyahu believes it is his obligation to speak out about this grave threat to the Jewish state while there is still time to stop a bad deal."

Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.

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