West expects critical talks with Tehran in New York

Bilateral US-Iran talks to resume Thursday in Geneva; Steinitz says options under discussion qualify as ‘bad deal.’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smiles during a news conference in Geneva, November 24, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smiles during a news conference in Geneva, November 24, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tehran’s nuclear program will be front and center for the world’s top diplomats at the UN General Assembly in New York this month, a summit US officials describe as a fulcrum in the critical diplomatic effort.
Expert-level talks have continued on a consistent basis out of the public eye throughout the spring and summer.
But the negotiation’s political directors will convene to gauge whether wide, complex and numerous gaps between their positions might possibly be bridged.
Before that pivotal summit, Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the administration's lead negotiator with Iran, will engage in bilateral talks with her Iranian counterparts on Thursday in Geneva.
Sherman will be joined by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Jake Sullivan, a senior White House advisor.
After extending talks by four months upon their expiration in July, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany hope to achieve a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear work by November 24.
With less than three months remaining, however, Israeli officials are examining proposals on the negotiating table and are already drawing the conclusion that any deal, as matters stand, will be unacceptable to Jerusalem.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday ahead of next round of talks.
Committee chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) expressed concern about growing “closeness” between Iran and the US as a result of the joint antipathy to the Islamic State Sunni terrorist organization.
Steinitz told the MKs that he is not “delusional” enough to think all of Israel’s demands will be attained, although Tehran agreed with the Western powers to make minor compromises.
“Unfortunately, after a year of talks, Iran is closer than ever to attaining nuclear capabilities,” he said.
Israel opposes Tehran attaining military nuclear capabilities, Steinitz said, adding that Iran could be close to that point.
The minister expressed skepticism that any agreement could be reached.
“It seems that the Iranians will not dramatically change their stance and will not compromise by one millimeter on the issue of centrifuges and enriching uranium,” Steinitz explained. “Assuming that [US President Barack] Obama will continue to stand by his statement that no agreement is better than a bad agreement – there won’t be an agreement.”
Ahead of the scrapped July 20 deadline, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that Iran would not be willing to dismantle virtually any of its vast nuclear infrastructure – echoing an assertion days before made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who proposed to increase, not decrease, the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of uranium-enriching centrifuges.
The United States has called for the “significant” reduction of that centrifuge architecture, as well as a permanent cap on enrichment, intrusive monitoring to enforce those caps, and the transformation or closure of facilities with no conceivable civilian nuclear purpose, such as the heavy-water plutonium facility in Arak.
Israel has gone further, calling for the complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and the export of its uranium enrichment process across borders – a position not held by any negotiating party at the table with Iran.
Obama has said that odds for success in reaching a nuclear deal are “long.”
“There is no significant difference between Iran’s plan of action on the nuclear issue under [former president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad or under [current President Hassan] Rouhani in recent times,” the US president said.