Will Iran and the P5+1 powers arrive at an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program? Reports from the last-minute negotiations indicate that Iran is steadfast in retaining nuclear capabilities that would pose a threat to Israel, the region and other parts of the world.
Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program entered a critical phase on Monday with differences remaining less than a day before the March 31st deadline for the outline of an agreement.
With the target date fast approaching, top diplomats from the negotiating parties were meeting in an attempt to bridge remaining gaps and hammer out a framework deal that would be the basis for a final accord to be reached by the end of June.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have been meeting in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the relief of sanctions on Iran’s economy.
Officials say the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology that could be used to make atomic weapons. In addition to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the timing and scope of sanctions removal, officials say, adding that attempts to reach a framework accord could yet fall apart.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there had been “some progress and some setbacks in the last hours.”
“I can’t rule out that there will be further crises in these negotiations,” he told reporters in Lausanne.
Both Iran and the six global powers – US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany – have reportedly floated compromise proposals in an attempt to make an accord possible.
In a sign that a deal may not materialize, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left the talks on Monday, just a day after arriving, to return to Moscow for previously planned meetings, according to his spokeswoman Maria Zarakhova. Lavrov will return to Lausanne on Tuesday if there is a realistic chance for a deal, she said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Sunday that it was up to the Iranians to choose whether to accept what has been presented to them.
By accepting the restrictions, the Iranians would “live up to their rhetoric that they are not trying to acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said in Washington on ABC’s “This Week.”
Tehran had said it was willing to address concerns about its stockpiles of enriched uranium, which could be used to make the core of a nuclear warhead, although senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi told reporters that dispatching stockpiles abroad “was not on Iran’s agenda.” One official said on Monday that Iran may deal with the issue by diluting it to a level that would not be weapons grade.
A senior State Department official said that shipping the stockpile is one of the “viable options that have been under discussion for months…but the resolution is still being discussed.”
Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern in over more than a decade of international attempts to cap Iran’s nuclear programs. A Western official said the main obstacles to a deal were no longer enrichment-related but, instead, the type and length of restrictions on Tehran’s research and development of advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.
In recent weeks, Iran reportedly moved from demanding to operate nearly 10,000 centrifuges to agreeing to a cap of 6,000. According to officials, Tehran may be ready to accept even fewer.
Even if the sides reach a framework deal by the deadline, officials say it would be very preliminary and could still fall apart when they discuss all the technical details for a comprehensive accord by June 30.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the agreement being formulated sends a message that “there is no price for aggression and on the contrary – that Iran’s aggression is to be rewarded. The moderate and responsible countries in the region, especially Israel and also many other countries, will be the first to be hurt by this agreement.”
“One cannot understand that when forces supported by Iran continue to conquer more ground in Yemen, in Lausanne they are closing their eyes to this aggression. But we are not closing our eyes and we will continue to act against every threat in every generation, certainly in this generation,” he vowed.
In an interview on CNBC Monday, former CIA Director James Woolsey said Iran is trying to expand its empire much like Hitler’s Germany before World War II, citing Tehran’s moves to exert its influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
“They are doing it on a highly ideological basis. They never cease chanting ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to the United States,'” Woolsey said. “They are an imperial power and trying to become more of an imperial power.”
Woolsey called for a halt in the six-nation nuclear talks with Iran, which include the U.S. “Given Iran’s aggressiveness and the fanaticism of its leaders, I don’t think we can do a reasonable deal with them. They’ll cheat.”
On March 8, President Obama said the US would “walk away” from the negotiations if Iran could not agree to an acceptable deal.