DEBKAfile Special Report November 23, 2013, 2:44 PM (GMT+02:00)
American and European negotiators have given Iran until Saturday night, Nov. 23, the fourth day of negotiations in Geneva, to reach agreement on an interim nuclear deal, debkafile’s sources report. After that deadline, those delegations plan to cut the talks short and leave. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif retorted that his government would not bow to threats. The US-EU deadline indicated that Washington, Paris, London and Berlin had reached the limit of their concessions to Iran. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said when he arrived in Geneva that the two difficulties encountered two weeks ago still remained. The Russian and Chinese foreign minister have refrained from comment.
See debkafile’s earlier report on this date.
Both sides were pumping up an atmosphere of optimism as the foreign ministers of all six powers facing Iran made tracks for Geneva Saturday morning, Nov. 23, Day Four of the marathon negotiations for an accord on a six-month freeze on Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Araghchi said the six powers had agreed to respect his country’s right to enrich uranium, so removing a major hurdle in the path of an accord, whereas Foreign Minister Javad Zarif remained silent.
Sergey Lavrov was the first foreign minister to arrive Friday night, followed by Secretary of State John Kerry early Saturday. Both were said to have come to try and narrow the gaps holding up an accord. The Chinese, British, French and German foreign ministers were due in Geneva Saturday morning, after bilateral sessions between Zarif and the other six delegates failed to produce enough progress for them to adjourn to formal negotiations around the same table, least of all reach the signing stage.
This time round, the Iranian team borrowed the Western tactic of constantly maintaining that a deal is within reach. This tactic aims at weakening the resistance of the opposite side by presenting it as dragging out the nerve-wracking talkathon beyond reason. This tactic didn’t work for the Western delegations in the first round of nuclear talks on Nov. 11, which France blew up on the fourth day. The second round had reached the same touch-and-go point by Saturday morning, when none of the six delegations confirmed they had agreed to a clause respecting Iran’s right to enrich uranium as Araghchi had claimed.
This point is pivotal to both sides because it is absent from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which merely specifies that countries are allowed “to pursue peaceful nuclear energy.”
Rewording this provision to cover the right to uranium enrichment would cut the ground from under the entire treaty by throwing the door open for all its signatories to enrich uranium at will.
Tehran’s goal in making this demand is more than legitimacy for its own weapons program. It is also seeks to deprive the big powers of the prerogative to determine the rights of smaller nations.
On this point, therefore, both Iran and the six powers are digging in their heels.
The other major hurdle facing a deal is the Arak heavy water reactor Iran is building. Tehran refuses to halt construction of this reactor arguing that like any other nation, Iran is entitled to build nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. They shoot back at any suggestion that the Arak reactor is designed to produce plutonium as fuel for nuclear weapon, along with enriched uranium, with a charge of discrimination, and declare, “Tehran is not going to sign an agreement that permanently put Iran in an outcast category,”
The Iranians have adopted a negotiating strategy of relegating the vital technical aspects of the draft accord to a lower priority while hammering away at issues pertinent to national respect. Iran is fighting in Geneva for international respect as a legitimate and equal nuclear power on the world stage.
This strategy also has a by-product: By the time they get around to the key technical clauses, the negotiators on the other side of the table are too worn down to cope with a new set of Iranian objections.
The biggest obstacle to a deal, however, is to be found in Tehran in the person of the tough, autocratic Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He will have the final word on whether the second round to talks in Geneva produce an accord – not the American or Russian presidents, and certainly not the foreign ministers assembling there.
Khamenei has boosted his heft by making himself unapproachable – even to Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani. So no one can influence him or even find out where he stands until the text is ready for signing. Even then, Zarif and Araghchi may be told at the last moment to withhold their signatures over some point and return home for further consultations. The six powers will then have to decide whether it is worth taking the negotiations to a third round, as the Congress in Washington fights back by enacting tighter sanctions against Iran.