Zarif, Ashton, Kerry to Meet in Muscat

Zarif, Ashton, Kerry to Meet in Muscat
Zarif, Ashton, Kerry to Meet in Muscat

Oman will host the next trilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the US secretary of state and European Union foreign policy chief to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

According to a US State Department statement on Friday, the talks between Zarif, John Kerry and Catherine Ashton are scheduled for November 9-10 in Muscat, two weeks before a November 24 target date to reach a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program.      

The schedule comes a day after US and Israeli delegations, led by national security advisers Susan Rice and Yossi Cohen, met at the White House to discuss the Iran negotiations, among other issues.

Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of UN Security Council plus Germany) are trying to build on an interim nuclear accord they reached in Geneva last November to hammer out a long-term settlement to the nuclear dispute, which has dragged on for over a decade.

Both sides say they made “some progress” in the most recent round of high-level talks in Vienna, but major differences on various issues remain unresolved.

  Ashton to Meet P5+1 FMs

Michael Mann spokesman for Ashton, who coordinates the negotiations on behalf of the six powers, said, “The high-level gathering is one of series of meetings in the final weeks before the deadline. Before heading to Oman, Ashton will meet senior foreign ministry officials from P5+1 in Vienna on November 7,” Reuters quoted him as saying on Friday.

Mann added, “The six will then begin meeting again with the full Iranian delegation in Vienna on November 18.”

On Friday, Kerry told Bloomberg that the negotiations will be “very tough”, adding that “there are still gaps that are fairly wide on a number of subjects.”

Kerry however said he remains “hopeful” about the outcome of the talks.

 The future scope of Iran’s nuclear enrichment capacity, the mechanism and speed of lifting sanctions, the duration of the final deal, the Arak heavy-water reactor, and the underground Fordo enrichment facility are said to be the main stumbling blocks in the talks.

The West has claimed that Iran may have been seeking to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran denies the allegation, saying its nuclear work is meant only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation.

Meanwhile, in a report published on Thursday, Washington Post claimed that the US and Iran agreed on a number of “crucial issues” including “the number of centrifuges and the size of the stockpile of enriched uranium.”

The paper said Tehran accepted a cap of 4,000 centrifuges, for the period of three to five years. It also added Iran agreed to keep “the roughly 9,400 it’s now operating” centrifuges, a number far fewer than “22,000 centrifuges that the Iranian had reportedly demanded”.

Following those claims, an unnamed official from Iran’s negotiating team denied the report and said Tehran will never withdraw from the nuclear rights.

He said, “The Islamic Republic has always insisted on its rights to use peaceful nuclear technology and simultaneously emphasized on transparency of its activities,” IRNA quoted him as saying on Saturday.

  No to Partial Easing of Sanctions

Last week, US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Iran would be seen to be responsible if a comprehensive nuclear deal is not reached by the November 24 deadline. “We hope the leaders in Tehran will agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that this program will be exclusively peaceful and thereby end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and improve further the lives of their people,” she said.  

“If that does not happen, the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran,” she claimed.

Sherman also said, “The world will decide to suspend and then lift nuclear-related sanctions only if and when Iran takes convincing and verifiable steps to show that its nuclear program is and will remain entirely peaceful.” In response to those comments, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said, “All sanctions must be lifted and dismantled simultaneously and the Islamic Republic will not accept that even one sanctions measure will remain in place under a comprehensive nuclear deal.”