US says world powers unified on Iran after nuclear talks stall

Kerry to ask Congress for "temporary pause" on sanctions to ensure that US legislative, negotiating strategies coordinated.

Obama and Rouhani 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama and Rouhani 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
World powers were unified over a deal in Geneva that would put much of Iran’s nuclear program on hold, the US government said on Tuesday.
The negotiations last weekend that aimed to address the impasse between the international community and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program ended with no agreement – and in the days following, Iran and the West have pointed fingers at each other over who is to blame for the failure to reach an interim deal.
“The Iranians did not accept that proposal, and that’s a statement of fact,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday.
Carney was responding to a series of posts on Twitter from the account of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, placing blame on the US for the failure to reach a deal that would pause fueling of Iran’s plutonium reactor in Arak, halt the stockpiling and production of centrifuges used to enrich uranium, and halt enrichment of uranium to dangerous levels.
“Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?” Zarif asked.
During the first round of negotiations, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris could not accept a "fool's game" - in other words, one-sided concessions to Iran.
Diplomats from other Western nations at first reacted angrily, accusing the French of trying to upstage the other powers and causing unnecessary trouble for the talks.
On Monday though, Kerry said the major powers were unified on Saturday when they presented a proposal to the Iranians, and suggested it was the Iranians who were unable to accept the proposal without consulting with Tehran.
"The French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal. There was unity. But Iran couldn't take it at that particular moment. They weren't able to accept that particular thing," Kerry told reporters.
Negotiations between Iran and the six major powers that make up the P5+1 group - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - broke off without an agreement and officials are scheduled to return to Geneva for a second round of talks on November 20.
US President Barack Obama spoke by phone on Tuesday with British Prime Minister David Cameron about the negotiations.
"On Iran, the president and prime minister reiterated their support for the P5+1's unified proposal and discussed their expectations for the next round of talks," the White House said in a statement.
But as the US seeks to promote an air of consensus and inevitability over the deal among its foreign allies, the Obama administration continues to press Congress to hold off on passing new sanctions legislation against the Islamic Republic’s oil sector and foreign exchange reserves.
Last week, while on tour in the Middle East and Geneva to address Iran, US Secretary of State Kerry called key senators from the road to keep them apprised of the negotiations and to urge them to pause any new legislative push.
Among others, Kerry spoke to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who decides whether the pending bill gets a markup and floor vote, as well as Senate Foreign Relations chairman Robert Menendez, who is leading the charge for new sanctions, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
On Wednesday, Kerry will brief members of the Senate Banking Committee, a key congressional panel in drafting Iran sanctions legislation, on Capitol Hill in person in a closed-door session to encourage them further to wait on any push.
"The secretary will be clear that putting new sanctions in place would be a mistake while we are still determining if there is a diplomatic path forward," Psaki said at her daily briefing.
"What we are asking for right now is a pause, a temporary pause, in sanctions," she added. "This is about ensuring that our legislative strategy and our negotiating strategy are running hand in hand."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his position that the offer made in Geneva was “a very bad deal,” but emphasized that Israel preferred a diplomatic solution.
“Anybody would prefer that,” he said at the Bloomberg Alternative Fuels Summit in Tel Aviv, “but we want a diplomatic solution that’s a real solution, that actually dismantles Iran’s nuclear weapons capability and its ability to produce the material for nuclear weapons.”
The deal on offer, which would allow Iran to keep its centrifuges and its heavy water reactor at Arak, “runs the danger of legitimizing Iran as a nuclear threshold nation,” he said. “Every day that passes, Iran is under increasing economic pressure. There’s no reason to rush to a bad deal.”
Netanyahu, apparently responding to US criticism that he had blasted the purported deal without full knowledge of what it proposed, said that he did know the details of the plan on the table.
Israeli security sources estimated Tuesday that Iran’s nuclear program has cost the Islamic Republic some $170 billion, both in money spent on the program and damages incurred due to international sanctions.
According to these estimates, Iran has spent $40b. on the development and running of its nuclear installations over the last 20 years.
In addition, since crippling sanctions were imposed on the country in the beginning of 2012, it has lost $130b. in damages. The damages include $105b. in lost oil revenues, and another $25b. lost in the financial and trade industries, as well as money in lost investments.
The sources said that Iran was also spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad, and that it had given between $8b.-$10b. to Hezbollah and another $1.3b.-$1.8b. to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
Niv Elis and Reuters contributed to this report.