With Iran nuclear deal missed, world powers rush back to talks (+video)
The failure of recent talks between Iran and world powers on its nuclear program could help hardliners opposed to a deal. Negotiators are scrambling to prevent that.
Such a deal has never been closer, diplomats say, and talks are set to resume in Geneva in just eight days. But competing narratives of what took place over the weekend are being used by both sides to jab at each other â€“Â and to quell hard-line opponents of any dealÂ who think their side is giving too much away.Â
The decision to meet again so quickly may prevent hawks in Congress from torpedoing the process with more sanctions. In Iran, it may keep open the window endorsed by Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
â€śItâ€™s an incredible shame that we have had this erupt into public recrimination,â€ť says Shashank Joshi, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. The chain of events â€ścan easily have a cyclical effect, and can easily allow spoilers to exploit these small breaches to pull on the string and unravel the whole thing."
Timing is everything, Mr. Joshi says. â€śI donâ€™t think there is enough time for Congress to do anything really reckless, nor do I think there is enough time for Iranian hardliners to really exert significant pressure,â€ť he says. â€śTheyâ€™ve kept up enough momentum to make sure that Khameneiâ€™s authority will carry with them until the next round.â€ť
Fingers pointing every way
The turn toward mutual accusationsÂ is a sharp departure fromÂ weeks in which all sides agreed not to discuss details of talks andÂ months in whichÂ negotiators allÂ but cooed about renewed prospects for a deal despite 10 years of failed diplomacy.Â The June election ofÂ President Hassan Rouhani, a centrist who vows â€śmoderation," sent hopes for a deal skyrocketing.Â
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the six world powers negotiating with Iran in Geneva wereÂ unifiedÂ behind the latest offer to Iran and made no mention of the French role in hardening an earlier offer that had already been largely worked out with Iran.
â€śThe French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal,â€ť Mr. Kerry saidÂ on MondayÂ inÂ Abu Dhabi, about the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany). â€śThere was unity, but Iran couldnâ€™t take it at that particular moment.â€ťÂ
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, directly chiding Kerry and referring to France as the spoiler.
â€śMr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draftÂ ThursdayÂ night? and publicly commented against itÂ Friday morning?â€ťÂ Mr. Zarif tweeted.Â
Iran is â€ścommitted to constructive engagementâ€¦to achieve shared objectives,â€ťÂ he added. Zarif added in another tweet: â€śNo amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva fromÂ 6PM ThursdayÂ to 545 PMÂ Saturday. But it can further erode confidence.â€ť
Zarifâ€™s comment referred to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who raised the ire of fellow diplomats when he broke protocol by discussing details of the talks,Â saying early in the process that "nothing has been agreed yet," and later that France would not accept a â€śfoolâ€™s game.â€ť
The preliminary deal now under discussion is meant to stop Iranâ€™s program advancing for six months, while a permanent agreement is reached that would prevent Iran from being able to acquire nuclear weapons, an ambition Iran says it rejects.
Mr. Fabius said France would insistÂ in the initial dealÂ that Iran halt work on its Arak heavy water reactor and shrink its stockpile of enriched uranium â€“ issues that other nations expected to feature in the final stages, months from now.
Another complication was aÂ dispute over whether Iranâ€™s â€śrightâ€ť to enrich â€“ which Tehran demands be included in the endgame of any deal â€“ would be mentioned in the preamble of the current text.Â
The last minute recalibration was confirmed by British Foreign Secretary William Hague.Â
â€śThe position put to Iran by all of us together in the final hours of the discussionsâ€¦had been amended in the light of comments from various of the parties concerned,â€ť Mr. Hague told Parliament in London yesterday. â€śA completely united position was put to the Iranians at the close of our discussions, so reports of vetoes by one country, or obstruction by any country, should be seen in that light.â€ťÂ
Hague said it was a â€śpityâ€ť that a deal had not been reached, â€śbecause even losing 10 days implies some loss of momentum here.â€ť
The French role led to an â€ś11th-hour tougheningâ€ť of the offer to Iran after 60 hours of negotiations â€“ much of it used by the P5+1 to find a common position â€“ which left â€ślittle time for the Iranians to respond,â€ť reported The Guardian.
â€śWe were very, very close actually, extremely closeâ€ť to a deal, Kerry said in a BBC interview published today. Close contact between the US and Iran was a bonus, he said: â€śWe havenâ€™t been speaking for 35 years. We just talked more in 30 hours than we have in those prior 30 years.â€ť
Russia said that meant failure "was not the fault of the Iranians," and that the US should not blame Iran, according to a Russian foreign ministry official widely quoted by Russian news agencies today. "Such an interpretation simplifies to an extreme and even distorts what happened in Geneva," the official said.
Inspections moving ahead
SeparatelyÂ on Monday, Iran signed a deal with the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency to provide â€śmanaged accessâ€ť for inspectors to a heavy water production plant and a uranium mine.
The deal is the firstÂ step forwardÂ in two years of talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on access issues and outstanding questions about possible past weapons-related work by Iran.Â
IAEA inspectors have already done more man-hour inspections in Iran than any other country. Both sidesÂ agreedÂ to cooperate more closely to ensure the â€śexclusively peaceful nature of Iranâ€™s nuclear programâ€ť and to â€śresolve all present and past issues.â€ťÂ
Noticeably absent was any reference to Parchin, a sprawling military complex south of Tehran which the IAEA hasÂ requested to visit multiple times to addressÂ suspicions that implosion experiments may have been carried out a decade ago.Â Reports over theÂ last two yearsÂ state that the site has undergone dramatic changes that could have erased any evidence of past work.
â€śThis is an important step forward to start with, but much more needs to be done,â€ť IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in Tehran, as the deal was signed. Â Â
â€śMy own sense is the IAEA process, including this new framework, is pretty much entirely hostage to what happens in Geneva,â€ť says Joshi of RUSI. Absent a broader deal there, â€śit is inconceivable to me that Iran would give meaningful access to the IAEA, because whyâ€¦give up something that could be used as a bargaining chip that could be used in subsequent negotiations?â€ť