Bloomberg: Iran and world powers failed to reach a deal limiting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, creating an opening for opponents from Israel and Saudi Arabia to the U.S. Congress to lobby against the first-step plan before negotiations resume in 10 days.
By Jonathan Tirone, Indira A.R. Lakshmanan & Kambiz Foroohar
Iran and world powers failed to reach a deal limiting the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, creating an opening for opponents from Israel and Saudi Arabia to the U.S. Congress to lobby against the first-step plan before negotiations resume in 10 days.
High-ranking diplomats from seven nations fell short of an accord in talks that stretched into a fourth day in Geneva. A next round has been scheduled to begin Nov. 20, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said today.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that Iran’s reluctance to suspend construction of its Arak heavy-water reactor remained one sticking point along with reducing stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium. Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who yesterday raised concerns that not enough restrictions had been imposed on Iran’s partially-built Arak heavy-water reactor or on Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium and capacity to make more, told reporters early this morning that more work is needed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later said, “I feel very confident that this can be done. I’m not going to tell you it will be — but I can tell you it absolutely can be — with good effort over these next days.”
The pause in talks gives opponents in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Washington time to lobby against any deal that would allow Iran to keep sensitive nuclear technologies and to press for new economic sanctions on Iran. After a stop in Abu Dhabi later today, Kerry intends to fly back to Washington to brief lawmakers and try to head off further congressional penalties that President Barack Obama’s administration says could scuttle an accord.
The deal being weighed in Geneva would have offered Iran a temporary easing of the sanctions on petrochemicals, gold and auto trade and some access to frozen assets, according to diplomats who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak.
“Members of Congress who genuinely seek a verifiable freeze and rollback of Iran’s nuclear program must refrain from actions that tie the hands” of the powers negotiating with Iran, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
“Neither side can or will get everything it wants,” he said, and “in the absence of a negotiated solution, Iran’s capabilities to produce material for nuclear weapons will only improve.”
The inconclusive outcome today also gives hardliners in Iran an opportunity to urge the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to prevent negotiators from conceding too much. On the second night of talks, Khamenei posted a message of support on Twitter for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his negotiating team, calling them “sons of the revolution.”
Zarif today told international reporters that differences among the parties were to be expected, yet he said he was pleased that all were “on the same wavelength” and “can build on and move forward” from the latest talks.
In a separate briefing with Iranian reporters, Zarif declined to fault the French foreign minister for raising the issue of the plutonium reactor or obstructing a deal.
“We were discussing nuclear issues and for a country to bring up heavy water is not strange,” Zarif said. “We don’t want anyone to think we are after nuclear weapons.”
Yesterday, Fabius had said in a France Inter radio interview, “We want an agreement, but not a fool’s bargain.”
Nuclear weapons can be made with highly enriched uranium, which Iran is already capable of producing, or plutonium extracted from spent-fuel used in heavy water reactors such as Arak.
While Iranian officials have told United Nations monitors that they would postpone operation of the Arak reactor, they wouldn’t agree at technical discussions in Vienna last week to shut it or convert it into a light-water reactor. That raised concerns among the six nations negotiating with Iran, according to a Western diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the talks’ sensitivity.
“Any reactor of that particular type is a serious concern,” Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear engineer who led UN investigations of Iraq’s nuclear program, said in an interview. At the same time, he said, the facility can be adequately monitored and Iran hasn’t shown any intent to extract plutonium so “Arak is not an immediate threat.”
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, led by Director-General Yukiya Amano, will visit Tehran Nov. 11 in their latest bid to win wider access to Iran’s nuclear work. The agency has been trying to obtain updated design information about the Arak reactor. Iran so far has declined to provide the blueprints, saying it isn’t obliged to do so.
The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, which Iran denies. The decade-long conflict has raised the dual specters of another war in the Middle East and a Persian Gulf nuclear arms race if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon.