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Iran: World powers should seize an “historic opportunity” to clinch nuclear deal

by Marcus George and James Mackenzie, Reuters

November 19, 2013 | 9:28 am

From left: European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva on Nov. 10. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

From left: European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva on Nov. 10. Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters

The protracted dispute over Iran's nuclear program can now be resolved, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in remarks released on Tuesday, and world powers should seize an "historic opportunity" to clinch a deal.

Iran is to meet the six powers on Wednesday for the third round of negotiations in a month, nearly two weeks after the sides neared an initial accord that would curb Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.

Zarif on Sunday offered a possible way around one of the most stubborn sticking points in the negotiations, saying Tehran has the right to enrich uranium but does not now insist others recognize that right.

In a five-minute Foreign Ministry video released on Tuesday, Zarif said there was a chance to end the stand-off as long as Western powers dealt with Iran on an "equal footing" and did not seek to impose their will.

He later told reporters in Rome before flying to Geneva for the talks that there was "every possibility" of a successful conclusion to the talks provided there was good faith and the political will to resolve problems by all sides.

"I'm willing to accept serious progress instead of an agreement but I'm certain that, with the necessary political will, we can make progress and even reach an agreement," he said.

The election of relative moderate Hassan Rouhani as president earlier this year opened a diplomatic window to try to untangle the decade-long deadlock that has at times edged towards open conflict in the Middle East.

"This past summer, our people chose constructive engagement through the ballot box, and through this, they gave the world a historic opportunity to change course," Zarif said in the video posted online with subtitles in several languages.

"To seize this unique opportunity, we need to accept an equal footing and choose a path based on mutual respect," added Zarif, who heads Iran's delegation at the Geneva talks.

The goal is an interim deal to allow time to negotiate a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would provide assurances to the six powers that Iran's atomic program will not eventually produce bombs.

Iran denies that it wants to develop a nuclear weapons capability and insists its program is limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and medical research.

The November 7-9 round of talks stumbled over Iran's insistence that its right to enrich uranium be explicitly recognized in the draft text, and demands from the French delegation that the Arak heavy-water reactor be shut down.

Western powers say the right to enrich is not explicitly set out in areas of the Non-Proliferation Treaty governing member states' use of peaceful atomic energy.

Many import low-enriched fuel from a few foreign suppliers and the powers say Iran should do the same to ensure no escalation to high, weapons-grade enrichment on its soil.

But on Tuesday Iranian parliamentarians gathered signatures to demand the government continue enriching uranium to levels of 20 percent, a higher level whose stated purpose is medical reactor fuel, and finish building the Arak reactor, which is a feared potential producer of plutonium, another bomb material.

"RIGHT TO ENRICH"

Rouhani has repeatedly said Iran will never give up its right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, a message the Islamic Republic's parliament, dominated by conservatives, appears to want to hold him to.

"The government is obliged to protect the nuclear rights of Iran in the forthcoming negotiations," Mehr news agency quoted member of parliament Fatemeh Alia as saying.

While it has limited powers in Iran's complex political system, parliament would likely vote on any nuclear deal. However, it would be very unlikely to go against the wishes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani's approach to the talks, which he says is the best way to get sanctions hobbling Iran's oil-based economy lifted, has Khamenei's public backing. Rouhani succeeded hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

Iranian political figures have lined up to accuse France of jeopardizing chances to reach a deal after Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned against accepting "a fool's game" - that is, what he considered lopsided concessions to Tehran.

On Monday, French President Francois Hollande set out a tough stance during a visit to Israel, saying he would not give way on nuclear proliferation with respect to Iran.

His remarks came in for criticism on Tuesday from an Iranian parliamentary official.

"We advise the president of France to comment on the basis of facts, not assumptions, and beyond that, not to be the executor of the Zionist regime's (Israel's) plan," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the assembly's national security and foreign affairs committee, told Iran's official news agency.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iran on Monday to finalize an agreement proving to the world its nuclear work is peaceful but said he had "no specific expectations" for this week's Geneva talks.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Isabel Coles in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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