Despite progress, Iran nuclear talks hit impasse on details

Updated 02 April 2015

Despite progress, Iran nuclear talks hit impasse on details

LAUSANNE, Switzerland: Major powers and Iran were closer to a preliminary accord on Tehran’s nuclear program as marathon talks ran into Wednesday, but were stuck over key details such as lifting UN sanctions and Iran’s future atomic research.
After missing a self-imposed March 31 deadline for a deal, the negotiators ended talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne in the early morning hours with an air of chaos, disunity and cacophony as delegations scrambled to get contradictory viewpoints across.
The six powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — aim to stop Iran from gaining the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb in exchange for easing international sanctions crippling its economy.
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
France’s foreign minister, often seen as making the most stringent demands of Iran, returned to Paris because things had not advanced enough for an “immediate deal.”
But as negotiators from the powers met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif again on Wednesday, Russia and Iran expressed optimism an initial agreement was within reach.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond sounded a note of caution. “I think we have a broad framework of understanding, but there are still some key issues that have to be worked through,” he told the BBC.
Western diplomats said Iran had on Tuesday reaffirmed its “nuclear rights,” suggesting the talks were again getting bogged down entering their seventh day.
Officials cautioned that any agreement would probably be fragile and incomplete.
“We hope to wrap up the talks by Wednesday night ... We insist on lifting of financial, oil and banking sanctions immediately ... for other sanctions we need to find a framework,” senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state television. “We insist on keeping research and development with advanced centrifuges,” he said.
Araqchi said he expected the parties to issue a joint statement declaring that “progress has been made in the talks and that we have come to a solution on key issues. We will have the solutions in written form.”

US THREAT
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin she hoped for a compromise ensuring Iran cannot get nuclear weapons. All sides had made a lot of progress, she said, but “such negotiations only come to an end if there is agreement on all points.”
Other diplomats close to the talks said any preliminary deal would include a document with some key figures — such as permitted numbers for centrifuges and uranium stockpiles — though it would remain confidential for the foreseeable future.
A preliminary deal would be a major milestone toward a final accord, with an end-June deadline, that could end a 12-year standoff between Iran and world powers and reduce the risk of another Middle East war.
But it would only be a first step and reaching agreement on details by June 30 will be difficult.
The United States threatened on Tuesday to walk away if the talks yield no political framework accord.
The talks have stalled on the issues of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge research, the lifting of UN sanctions and their restoration if Iran breaches the agreement.

RUSSIA SAYS KEY DETAILS AGREED
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who returned to Moscow, said negotiators had reached a general accord on “all key aspects.”
But a diplomat close to the talks denied such an agreement had been reached, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius left saying he would only return if it was “necessary.”
“Things have progressed, but not enough ... that we can reach an immediate deal,” Fabius said in Paris. “We are firm. We want a robust deal with detailed checks.”
China warned of failure and urged all sides to compromise.
“If the talks are stuck, then all previous efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff with the six major powers will have been wasted,” said the rare statement by the Chinese delegation after Foreign Minister Wang Yi left Lausanne.
The US administration of President Barack Obama had committed to meeting an end-March deadline for the outline political accord. Diplomats said they knew US credibility was at stake after missing that deadline and getting a deal in the coming hours was crucial.
Some parts of any understanding reached by the parties will likely remain confidential.
Congress has warned it will consider imposing new sanctions on Iran if there is no agreement this week. A Democrat, Obama has threatened to veto any such sanctions moves.
Lavrov said the possible agreement included the International Atomic Energy Agency’s monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program as well as steps to lift sanctions. Experts would work out technical details by end-June.
“One can say with enough confidence that ministers have reached a general agreement on all key aspects of a final settlement to this issue,” Lavrov said.
A senior Iranian negotiator said Tehran was willing to negotiate until the deadlock was resolved. “Iran does not want a nuclear deal just for the sake of having a deal, and a final deal should guarantee the Iranian nation’s nuclear rights,” the negotiator, Hamid Baidinejad, told reporters.


Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

Updated 11 min 26 sec ago

Iranians awaiting US election results with bated breath

  • Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared

DUBAI: Top officials in Iran say the upcoming US election doesn’t matter, but nearly everyone else there seems to be holding their breath.
The race for the White House could mean another four years of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign. Or it could bring Joe Biden, who has raised the possibility of the US returning to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
In the upper levels of Iran’s Islamic republic, overseen by 81-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, anti-Americanism is as deeply entrenched as at any time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with presidents from both parties seen as equally repugnant.
“America has a deep-rooted enmity against the Iranian nation and whether Trump is elected or Biden, it will not have any impact on the US main policy to strike the Iranian nation,” parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf said in September, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
But noticeably, Khamenei himself hasn’t commented on the election, even as public interest has soared. State-run radio rebroadcast a BBC Farsi-language service simulcast of the presidential debates live — even as Iran continues to target journalists for the British broadcaster.
That interest allegedly includes Iran’s security apparatus as well. US officials accuse the Islamic republic of sending emails to voters seeking to intimidate them into voting for Trump. It may have been an attempt to link the president to apparent election interference in order to sow chaos, like Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election. Tehran denies being involved.
The Iranian public is paying attention. The state-owned polling center ISPA said this month that 55 percent of people believe the outcome of the election will affect Iran “a lot.” Over half expected Trump would win, while a fifth said Biden. ISPA said it surveyed over 1,600 people by telephone, and did not provide a margin of error.
Trump’s reelection would mean the extension of his pressure campaign, including sanctions on Khamenei and other senior officials. Some of the sanctions are largely symbolic — Khamenei has only once traveled to America and does not hold any US bank accounts — but others have devastated the economy and sent the local currency into freefall. As a hedge, Iranians have poured money into foreign currency, real estate, precious metals and the stock market — which hit a record high in August.
Trump on the campaign trail has hit on that and his decision to launch a drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January — a move that led Tehran to launch a retaliatory ballistic missile strike, wounding dozens of American troops.
To cheers, Trump has described the general, Qassem Soleimani, as “the world’s No. 1 terrorist,” likely due to him being blamed for the improvised explosive devices that maimed US troops in Iraq and for supporting Syria’s Bashar Assad. Many Iranians revered Solemani for fighting against Daesh and in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and millions flooded the streets for his funeral processions.
“The first call I get when we win will be from the head of Iran, let’s make a deal. Their economy is crashing,” Trump told a campaign rally in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Monday. “They will call and I want them to do well, but they cannot have a nuclear weapon.”
Biden has left open the possibility of returning to the nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have remained committed to the agreement and allowed a UN arms embargo to expire as part of the deal, despite a White House push to keep it in place.
After Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and restored crippling sanctions, Iran began publicly abandoning the agreement’s limits on enrichment. It now has at least 2.32 tons of low-enriched uranium, according to a September report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Experts typically say 1.15 tons of low-enriched uranium is enough material to be re-enriched for one nuclear weapon.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and still allows IAEA inspectors to monitor its atomic sites. But experts say the “breakout time” needed for Iran to build one nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so has dropped from one year under the deal to as little as three months.
Iran in the past also has threatened to abandon a nuclear nonproliferation treaty or expel international inspectors. It recently began construction at an underground nuclear site, likely building a new centrifuge assembly plant after a reported sabotage attack there earlier this year.
“’America First’ has made America alone,” Biden said at a televised ABC town hall this month, playing on a longtime Trump slogan. “You have Iran closer to having enough nuclear material to build a bomb.”
What a return to the deal means, however, is in question. Biden’s campaign website says he would use “hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend it.” One criticism of the accord was its narrow focus on the nuclear program, despite concerns by the US, Israel and its Gulf Arab allies over Iran’s ballistic missile program and its presence in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Iran maintains that its ballistic missile program is vital for deterring potential attacks and non-negotiable. It is also unlikely to cease its military activities in Syria and Iraq, where it spent considerable blood and treasure in the war against Daesh.
But ensuring the survival of the Islamic republic, particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, may require the same flexibility that saw Iran agree to negotiations with the US in the first place. Iran will hold a presidential election in June, but any decision to re-engage with Washington would have to be made by the supreme leader.
“Khamenei’s revolutionary path actually leads to America — that is, by seeking a stable, safe, and meticulously measured relationship with the United States, he believes he can guarantee the survival of both the regime and its revolutionary content and orientation,” wrote Mehdi Khalaji, a Qom-trained Shiite theologian who is an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“Tehran’s objective is therefore a scandalous paradox: Deal with America to remain anti-American.”