France signals tension among world powers on Iran nuclear talks

EU: Talks in ‘last mile’ will require political, not technical, concessions; Gaps still need to be closed, Kerry says.

Snowflakes fall as Republican Guards stand in formation in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace (photo credit: REUTERS)
Snowflakes fall as Republican Guards stand in formation in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – As European officials declared negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program “in the last mile,” gunning toward a March 31 deadline, France suggested over the weekend that more technical concessions are required from Tehran for a comprehensive accord.
“As regards the numbers, controls and the length of the agreement,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters, “the situation is still not sufficient.”
On Saturday, Fabius sharpened his point: Diplomats have not yet agreed on the number and quality of uranium- enriching centrifuges Iran would be allowed to operate under any deal, nor have they agreed on the precise nature of checks required over an inspection and verification regime, which will ensure Iran does not violate the deal.
France is part of negotiations alongside the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and Germany attempting to cap, monitor and partially roll back Iran’s nuclear program, in order to ensure it is peaceful in nature.
They seek a “big-picture” political framework agreement by the end of March and a comprehensive accord, with all technical details settled, by the end of June.
“We are on the same page,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after talks with Fabius in Paris, assuring reporters that no daylight exists between the powers.
“If we didn’t think that there was further to go, as Laurent said, we’d have had an agreement already,” Kerry added.
“The reason we don’t have an agreement is, we believe there are gaps that have to be closed. There are things that have to be done to further strengthen this. We know this.”
In their joint press availability on Saturday, Kerry said the US was “not feeling a sense of urgency that we have to get to any deal,” given the short time frame ahead, and the gaps that apparently remain.
But “we have a critical couple of weeks ahead of us,” he said. “We’re all mindful that the days are ticking by.”
In Iran, a top cleric said the talks have already legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, making any outcome – deal or no deal – a win for his country.
“If this agreement is reached both sides will have emerged winner. i.e. it would be a win-win,” Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said in a Friday sermon in Tehran, according to state-run media outlet Press TV. “But if it is not sealed, it would be a winlose.”
Talks are to continue through the month among the parties’ political directors, though the location for the talks has not yet been determined.
Israel says a deal that eases Iran into the international community in roughly a decade, normalizing Tehran as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, guarantees Iran as a future nuclear state. In an address to a joint meeting of Congress last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that diplomats have failed to force Iran to dismantle any of its illicit nuclear infrastructure.
But EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who coordinates the talks, disagreed with the prime minister when speaking to the press on Saturday.
The “last mile” of the talks, she said, would require political will more so than technical concessions.
“I believe a good deal is at hand,” Mogherini said. “I also believe that there is not going to be any deal if it is not going to be a good deal. And this is something we have to pass as a message to all our friends and partners.”
Reuters contributed to this report.