Thursday, November 7, 2013

Iran says nuclear deal possible this week

As new talks begin in Geneva, Israeli minister slams ‘grave mistake’ of proposed deal under which West is offering to ease sanctions if Iran scales back nuclear program

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif at the United Nations, September 26,2013. (screen capture: Youtube/Youtube News
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif at the United Nations, September 26,2013 (screen capture: Youtube/Youtube News)

second round of talks between Iran and the West kicked off in Geneva Thursday, with the Iranian foreign minister saying that a deal over his country’s controversial nuclear program could be reached by week’s end, if all parties strove to reach that goal. 

“If everyone tries their best we may have one,” Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted by Reuters as saying. “We expect serious negotiations. It’s possible.”  
 
Zarif made the comments to reporters after a preliminary breakfast meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

A senior US official, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said the six world powers of the P5+1 — the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany — were ready to offer “limited, targeted and reversible” sanctions relief in response to agreement by Iran to start scaling back activities that could be used to make weapons.

Israeli minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) said the offer was “unfathomable” and that it was a “grave mistake” to offer any easing of the sanctions pressure when the Iranians hadn’t done anything to dismantle their nuclear program. He said the nuclear program was seen by the regime in Tehran as its guarantee of survival, and that it was taking its cue from the summer’s Syrian chemical weapons crisis, when it saw that the West didn’t dare confront the relatively weak President Bashar Assad, even though he used chemical weapons against his own people 14 times.

Following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cue, Israeli officials said they wouldn’t accept any compromise short of dismantling Iran’s nuclear research program.

“Israel… has learned that a proposal will be brought before the P5+1 in Geneva in which Iran will cease all enrichment at 20 percent and slow down work on the heavy water reactor in Arak, and will receive in return the easing of sanctions,” an Israeli official told AFP Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Israel thinks this is a bad deal and will oppose it strongly.”

But in a nod to skeptics in Congress, the official emphasized that any economic relief given Iran could be canceled, should Tehran renege on commitments it makes in Geneva. She added that the six powers were looking to test the durability of any initial nuclear limits Iran agreed to by waiting — possibly for as long as six months — after such an agreement before any sanctions relief kicked in.

Iran and the P5+1 were set to begin two days of negotiations on Thursday in the latest round of talks aimed at allaying Western fears that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. The United States is leading Western powers in demanding that Iran not only halt its nuclear development but cut back on its capabilities and stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.