US Official Sees "Substantial" Progress in P5+1 Talks

US Official Sees "Substantial" Progress in P5+1 TalksUS Official Sees "Substantial" Progress in P5+1 Talks

A senior US official said international talks on Iran's nuclear program have made "substantial" progress.

The unnamed official told reporters on Friday that many hurdles remained to reaching an agreement to place temporary constraints on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the phasing out of economic sanctions, saying he did not expect one to be reached next week.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry are to meet in Switzerland early next week just as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington.   

Netanyahu is expected to deliver a scathing critique of the negotiations. US Republicans have also criticized the talks with Iran.

The US official said critics needed to make a case for a better alternative to the diplomatic efforts, Reuters reported.

“Frankly, I think the challenge is for those who are critics of this agreement, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, to lay out why alternative approaches would work better,” said the US official.

Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before an Israeli election has caused consternation in the Unites States and Israel.                                                 

US officials have made no secret of their unhappiness that John Boehner, Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, arranged for Netanyahu to speak before Congress without the Democratic White House initially being in the loop.

  “Bottom Lines”

In making the case for an agreement, the US official described what he called four US “bottom lines.”

These included preventing Iran from making weapons-grade plutonium at the Arak heavy-water reactor now being built and from enriching uranium at Fordo, an underground nuclear facility. They also include restricting uranium enrichment at Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz and requiring it to agree to a highly intrusive inspection regime.

“Without an agreement we don’t have any of this insight into Iran’s nuclear program,” the official said. “With an agreement, we have a significant amount of eyes into Iran’s program and a much better capacity to detect any potential covert effort to break out and pursue a weapon.”

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

The US official sought to play down expectations of a deal being reached at next week’s talks in Montreux, Switzerland, which will include US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

“Obviously, the negotiations have advanced substantially, gaps have narrowed, but we really don’t know if we will be able to close a good deal because ultimately that’s going to depend on Iranian decisions” about accepting such a regime, he said.

The sides are set to work out a political understanding until the end of March. A full, technical deal would then be spelled out by June 30.

The Obama administration’s lead negotiator in the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) also said the world would cheer a diplomatic deal with Tehran.

“If we were able to do it, the world would judge it as a good thing,” said Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of State for political affairs, at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday, the Hill reported.