Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
WASHINGTON – The United States and France are expressing concern about the rhetoric of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who appeared on Tuesday to reject key provisions of the framework nuclear agreement that his negotiators and those of six world powers announced back in April.
In a speech he delivered live on Iranian television, Khamenei specifically rejected limits on Tehran’s research and development of nuclear technology that are to last a decade or more.
The speech has caused trepidation among Western diplomats as they prepare to descend on Vienna this weekend. Before Khamenei’s remarks – which also outlined several redlines beyond the R&D issue, an issue previously believed settled – the US team had hoped to close a final nuclear agreement with Iran by a self-imposed deadline of June 30, or within days of that date.
“France wants a deal, but wants the deal to be robust, a good deal,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday alongside his Saudi Arabian counterpart.
“A certain number of statements do not seem to go in that direction.”
According to parameters of the framework reached in Lausanne and released on April 2 by the White House, Iran agreed to “limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development...for 10 years.” But in Tuesday’s speech, Khamenei stated that “freezing Iran’s research and development for a long time like 10 or 12 years is not acceptable.”
R&D is explicitly limited four times in the White House document.
Those limits specifically constrict R&D on enrichment for 10 years, and R&D on advanced centrifuge technology for 15 years.
The document does not mention any “freeze” of R&D, though Iran’s use of advanced centrifuge models is also banned for “at least” 10 years.
Responding to Khamenei’s speech, a State Department official told The Jerusalem Post
that US negotiators were focusing on their private discussions with their Iranian counterparts.
“Our focus remains in the negotiating room, not on public comments,” the official said. “We are committed to the understandings we reached in Lausanne and believe that it is the basis for a good deal. We will see, in the negotiations, if Iran does likewise.”
But Khamenei has the final say in any nuclear agreement – and his comments are expected to shape the negotiating positions of his team on the ground as talks enter a critical period this weekend.
“I would acknowledge that there continue to be some difficult challenges that have to be met,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday in response to the speech. “We’ll be very attuned to the actions of the Iranians as they implement the agreement, if one can be reached.”
He added that “we’re less concerned about the words and much more concerned about the actions.”
Additional redlines the supreme leader has set forth – positions that the US and France have publicly opposed – were codified in a bill that Iran’s parliament passed this week and that its unelected Guardian Council signed into law on Wednesday.
Iran’s Preserving Nuclear Rights Bill rules out International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of any of its military sites – inspections that the UN body says it needs in order to complete its decade-old investigation into possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear work.
Iran says the IAEA is exceeding its mandate by requesting access to military complexes that host state secrets, which would violate the sovereignty that all sovereign nations hold sacred.
The bill also demands an “immediate” lift of all sanctions.
In his Tuesday address, Khamenei reinforced that redline, stating that all sanctions – including those that require the approval of both the president and Congress to impose and lift – would have to be lifted immediately upon the signing of a final deal.
The US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran may agree to begin implementation of a deal before conducting an official signing ceremony. But the inclusion of sanctions that require Congress’s approval to impose and lift is a new condition of Khamenei’s.
US President Barack Obama has already signed a bill into law that allows Congress to review any nuclear deal with Iran, in its entirety, for 30 days after an agreement is reached.
But Khamenei stated that “all financial and economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, the US Congress or the US government should be lifted immediately when we sign a nuclear agreement.”