No Serious Obstacles in Nuclear Talks

No Serious Obstacles in Nuclear Talks
No Serious Obstacles in Nuclear Talks

About three weeks ahead of a November 24 target date to reach a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed speculations over the existence of “serious obstacles” in the way of a broad agreement between Tehran and the major powers.

Zarif told China’s CCTV channel on Saturday, "I don't think we have serious obstacles."

Over alleged Western concerns about the possibility of developing nuclear weapons by Iran, Zarif said, "There are possibilities of various ways and means of making sure that Iran's program will remain exclusively peaceful and at the same time ensuring that all the restrictions that have unjustifiably restricted Iran's trade with other countries are lifted. I believe that's not too difficult to achieve."

Zarif made a two-day trip to China to attend the Conference of Istanbul Process on Afghanistan late last week. In Beijing he met with a number of Chinese officials and other Asian officials.

The comments were partly in response to the latest remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry in which he had said that the final phase of the negotiations with Iran will be “very tough”.  

Kerry had told Bloomberg on Friday, “There are still gaps that are fairly wide on a number of subjects.”

Zarif, Kerry and Catherine Ashton, who coordinates the nuclear negotiations on behalf of the P5+1 (the five permanent members of UN Security Council plus Germany), are scheduled to hold trilateral talks on November 9-10 in Omani capital Muscat to discuss Iran's nuclear issue.

  Uranium Shipment Deal Denied  

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham denied a report by the New York Times that Tehran has agreed to ship parts of its stockpile of uranium to Russia if a final agreement is reached by November 24. Afkham said, "Such rumors and assumptions by some foreign media are fueled with certain political aims and we cannot confirm them,” IRNA quoted her as saying on Tuesday.  She added, "Iran's negotiators will proceed in talks while solely taking note of national interests and the rights of Iranian people."

On Monday, the New York Times quoting officials and diplomats involved in the negotiations with Iran reported, "Iran has tentatively agreed to ship much of its huge stockpile of uranium to Russia if it reaches a broader nuclear deal with the West." The paper said the issue was "potentially a major breakthrough in talks that have until now been deadlocked.

"Under the proposed agreement, the Russians would convert the uranium into specialized fuel rods for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s only commercial reactor. Once the uranium is converted into fuel rods, it is extremely difficult to use them to make a nuclear weapon."

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. Also in a similar report by the Washington Post last week, it was 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.”

According to the Washington Post, 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”.

An unnamed official from Iran’s negotiating team later denied the report as "false".

  Closer Understanding

Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has expressed optimism over the outcome of the nuclear talks provided that the P5+1 acted "reasonably". Speaking during his tour of the northwestern province of Zanjan, Larijani said the nuclear talks are moving in the right direction and the two sides have reached "closer understanding" on many issues, the Mehr news agency reported on Sunday.

Iran and the six major powers (the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and 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. 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.