Time for Key Nuclear Decisions

Time for Key Nuclear DecisionsTime for Key Nuclear Decisions

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the need for making key decisions in the nuclear talks with the major powers prompted high-level officials to join the ongoing negotiations in Geneva.

Ali Akbar Salehi, director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and Hossein Fereydoon, special aide to President Hassan Rouhani, travelled to the Swiss city on Saturday to help advance the negotiations on a comprehensive deal to resolve the 12-year standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.

Salehi and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz held consultations on the technical aspects of a final settlement as part of the nuclear talks between Iran and the United States.

Deputy Foreign Ministers Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-Ravanchi headed the Iranian delegation and the US team was led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman on the meetings on Friday and Saturday. Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry joined the talks on Sunday.

Araqchi had earlier said Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) were scheduled to hold a meeting at the level of deputy foreign ministers and political directors on Sunday.

***Crucial Stage         

"In the view of the country's officials, the talks have reached a stage that there is a need for serious decisions at high level, so Mr. Salehi was requested to be present at this round of talks so that the issue can be examined transparently, precisely and thoroughly," Zarif said in an interview with Iranian state television before his talks with Kerry, IRNA reported.

"The nuclear issues have various aspects. We have enrichment and the Arak reactor. These subjects demand in-depth knowledge of the country's peaceful nuclear program and Mr. Salehi… is an expert who has scientific records (in the field of) nuclear energy and possess a profound knowledge of this area," he said.   

The chief nuclear negotiator also said the presence of the presidential aide was also "essential" to make the necessary coordination with the presidential office.

Elsewhere, the foreign minister said Iran will not accept a "vague" and "incomplete" agreement, noting, "As long as we do not agree on all issues, no deal will be struck."

As the Leader of the Islamic Revolution stated any final settlement should be a "single-stage" agreement as general and temporary deals "leave room for interpretation," he said, adding, "Whenever the views of parties converge, they will be put down on paper at the same time and the text will be finalized. It is the approach that we are following."

Zarif also said, "Iran's nuclear program is completely peaceful," emphasizing, "Iran will not give in to pressure and sanctions, and the only way to reach a resolution is holding negotiations based on the terms of the Geneva agreement (the interim nuclear deal Iran and the major powers signed in November 2013)."

In addition, the senior diplomat said, "We have held good discussions on the issue of sanctions and other issues that require agreement, but we have not agreed on any issue yet and even there are differences on some matters."   

Iran and the six major powers (the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany) are in talks to build on the interim deal to work out a final accord, which would place constraints on Tehran's nuclear activities for a specified period of time in exchange for the phasing out of sanctions. They are set to reach a political understanding on the basic framework of a final settlement by the end of March and finalize details until June 30.

***Significant Gaps

In a press conference after his meeting with his British counterpart in London on Saturday, Kerry said, "Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and I discussed the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. Our governments remain in lockstep with our international partners on the importance of cutting off Iran's pathways to the potential of a nuclear weapon."

Iran denies the allegation that it may be seeking to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program, saying the work is only meant for peaceful purposes, such as electricity generation and medical research.

Kerry also said he would travel to Geneva to meet the Iranian foreign minister "to see if we can make progress in these talks. A unified P5+1 has put on the table creative ideas to achieve our objective, and now we will find out whether or not Iran is able to match its words about its willingness to show that its program is fully peaceful with the verifiable actions and verifiable decisions that are necessary to accomplish that goal."

Elsewhere, the top US diplomat pointed to the meeting between Salehi and the US energy chief and said, "The presence of Secretary Ernie Moniz is a reflection of the fact that these talks are very technical, and because we are pushing to try to come to agreement on some very difficult issues, it was deemed necessary and appropriate to be able to have our technical people be able to sit with their technical people at the highest level in order to try to resolve any differences that may exist.

"I would not read into it any indication whatsoever that something is about to be decided as a result of that. There are still significant gaps. There is still a distance to travel. And with respect to the end date… President (Barack) Obama has no inclination whatsoever to extend these talks beyond the period that has been set out with a feeling that it is imperative to be able to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time span that we have left. And if that can't be done, that it would be an indication that fundamental choices are not being made that are essential to doing that."

In conclusion, he said, "So our target remains, as the president has said, towards the end of March, and I am absolutely confident that President Obama is fully prepared to stop these talks if he feels that they're not being met with the kind of productive decision making necessary to prove that a program is, in fact, peaceful."

***Response to Kerry

In response to Kerry's remarks, the senior adviser to the Leader said the Islamic Republic has expressed its readiness for negotiations and has never refused to engage in diplomacy, "but it does not mean that the Americans think and give the impression that the negotiations are a concession to Iran."

The United States needs the negotiations to resolve the dispute with Iran to meet its interests, Ali Akbar Velayati said, adding, "If their purpose is to mount a propaganda campaign to pressure Iran… they know that Iran, thanks to its independence, popular backing, the Leader's guidance and the resistance of its government and negotiating team, is not a country that yields to pressure."