by Yassamine Mather
Negev Nuclear Research Center
On July 13 the Persian-speaking spokesperson of the US State Department was asked by the BBC if, in the absence of any progress in negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran before July 20, there would be an extension to the deadline for the final phase of nuclear discussions. His reply was clear: John Kerry is in Vienna to resolve the differences and we want to sign the final deal. So don’t let’s talk of extensions. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was in Vienna for those talks in an attempt to resolve what William Hague has called “a huge gap” – in particular between Iran’s demand for a future nuclear enrichment programme in spite of the west’s strong opposition.
By July 15, after three meetings with Iranian officials, Kerry seemed positive, although both he and Zarif were already hinting at an extension of the July 20 deadline. Further concessions by Iran are likely to include a possible delay of three to seven years in pursuing aspects of the country’s nuclear programme. Irrespective of the final outcome, it is clear that Iran is under considerable pressure to sign the final agreement. A return to sanctions worse than in the 2010-13 period is unthinkable. However, the Iranian negotiating team is aware that the “full support” of supreme leader Ali Khamenei will only last as long as Negev Nuclear Research Centerthey can come up with a face-saving compromise.
In theory the general outlines of the proposed final deal between the P5+1 and Iran is very clear: western powers will recognise Iran’s rights to have a nuclear industry, as long as the country accepts inspections and verification of all its nuclear facilities. On the face of it, both sides agree with this proposal and, given the current US predicament over Iraq (not to mention Syria and Afghanistan), one might have thought there would be fresh momentum to resolve things. However, US-Iranian relations are not that simple and the west’s insistence on restrictions on nuclear enrichment, the closure of the Arak heavy water plant and an end to plutonium production go far beyond nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conditions (they are, according to the Iranian team, “NPT-plus”).
Iranian president Hassan Rowhani sent his brother to Vienna, apparently as an advisor to the foreign secretary, but sections of the Iranian press claim he came with new proposals that should narrow the gap between the two sides – better monitoring facilities, and a delay in pursuing certain aspects of the nuclear programme in return for Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
However, none of this is sufficient for the US. The reality is, the US wants to punish Iran and make sure it cannot benefit from the political vacuum in the region. It wants to ensure that its own interpretation of the NPT becomes the norm, as far as the developing world is concerned. On this Khamenei is probably right when he says US concerns have little to do with nuclear proliferation.
Two interpretations of the NPT have dominated the various stages of the talks. On the one hand, there is the non-aligned countries’ literal Read the rest of this entry »