US and Iran moving closer to nuclear deal, EU diplomats tell Israeli officials

Army Radio: Possible deal includes understanding whereby Iran would be allowed to keep centrifuges in exchange for maintaining regional stability in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
European diplomats have told Israeli officials in recent days that the United States and Iran are moving closer to an agreement that would allow the Islamic Republic to keep a large number of centrifuges in return for guaranteeing regional stability, Army Radio is reporting on Tuesday.
According to EU officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have discussed increasing the number of centrifuges which Iran would be permitted to keep. In exchange, the Iranians would undertake an obligation to bring their influence to bear in order to ensure quiet in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
European diplomats are quoted by Israeli officials as saying that the US in recent weeks has made significant concessions in its talks with Iran, so much so that it is willing to permit Tehran to operate 6,500 centrifuges while lifting sanctions that have hurt its economy this past decade.
The Europeans have told the Israelis that these concessions were offered in exchange for Iranian promises to maintain regional stability. According to Army Radio, the EU is opposed to the proposed linkage between the nuclear issue and other geopolitical matters. In fact, the Europeans suspect that Washington is operating behind Brussels’ back and that Kerry has not bothered to keep them in the loop in his talks with Zarif.
Israel is concerned that the Obama administration’s willingness to allow Iran to keep centrifuges would in effect render Tehran a “nuclear threshold state,” enabling it to assemble a nuclear bomb within months if it so chooses. Such a scenario is unacceptable to the Israelis.
This is not the first time in recent days that reports have emerged regarding American concessions to Iran in the nuclear negotiations.
This past weekend, Obama administration officials denied an Israeli television report that Washington had agreed to 80 percent of Iran’s demands.
“That’s complete nonsense,” a senior US official told The Jerusalem Post, responding to a report by Channel 10 on Friday.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany are negotiating with Iran toward a comprehensive agreement over its nuclear program, hoping to clinch a political framework by the end of March.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been working the phones with Democratic lawmakers in Washington to temper their concerns over the political nature of his speech to a joint session of Congress, scheduled for March 3. The latest deadline for a final settlement is June 30.
The urgency of the matter – and not partisan politics – is what motivated Netanyahu to violate diplomatic protocol and accept the Republican leadership’s invitation to address Congress on the need for more sanctions against Iran, Channel 10 quotes officials in Jerusalem as saying.
The White House says it will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and both the prime minister and the US president say that no deal at the negotiating table is better than a bad one.
The standards for a bad deal remain hotly contested between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, growing frustrated with hard-line resistance to a nuclear deal, accused opponents of effectively “cheering on” the other side in the grueling negotiations with world powers.
Rouhani, faced with rising popular concern over his unfulfilled election pledges to fix the economy, blamed hard-line interference in part for the talks’ halting progress.
“The other side applauds their own, but here in our country, it is not clear what [the critics] are doing. It is as if they are cheering on the rival team,” Rouhani he told a public gathering, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
“And when we ask them what they are going, they answer: ‘We are criticizing and criticism is a good thing... This is not criticism, it is sabotage of national interests and favor for partisan politics,” he said.
“Criticism is not about booing, it is not about slander and character assassination. Criticism is about showing a better and clearer way so that [we can] reach our goals faster.”
Hard-line sentiment is centered in the security establishment led by the Revolutionary Guards and in the powerful Shi’ite clergy.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate political authority, has so far backed the nuclear talks but has also continued to denounce foreign “enemies” and “the Great Satan” to reassure hard-liners for whom anti-US sentiment has always been integral to the Islamic Revolution.
Michael Wilner contributed to this report.