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Europe

Talks resume over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme

© afp

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-21

Talks between Iran and world powers resumed Wednesday in Geneva in hope of reaching a landmark deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed not to back down from exercising Iran's nuclear "rights".

Iran and world powers resumed talks on Wednesday in hopes of striking a landmark deal on Tehran's nuclear programme that satisfies sceptical hardliners in Washington, Israel and within the Islamic republic.

As the negotiations got under way in Geneva, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed not to back down from exercising Iran's nuclear "rights" before slamming Israel for trying to “torpedo” the negotiations.

"I insist on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation," Khamenei, 74, said in a live TV address. Khamenei went on to say that Israel was “doomed to collapse” and that its leaders were "not worthy” of being called human.

A French government spokeswoman called the Israel comments "unacceptable”, adding that they would “complicate the negotiations" on Iran's nuclear issues.

France would continue to be "firm, but not closed" at the talks, spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said.

The Geneva meeting takes place amid already heightened Middle East tensions after twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed at least 23 people on Tuesday.

Iran blamed Israel and its "mercenaries" for the attack, which was later claimed by the al Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

High hopes for this round

Ten days after a high-drama gathering also in Geneva, Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – the P5+1 – have been cautiously optimistic a deal is possible this time.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also posted a conciliatory but defiant message on YouTube ahead of the meeting, said in Rome that there was "every possibility for success".

But US President Barack Obama was more circumspect, telling a Wall Street Journal CEO forum on Tuesday: "I don't know if we will be able to close a deal this week or next week."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a phone call Monday with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rohani that there was a "real chance" for a deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Putin for talks in Moscow on Wednesday, after which the Israeli leader called for a "real solution" to the Iran nuclear crisis.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's office said Tuesday after he also phoned Rohani – the first such contact in a decade – that both leaders agreed it was "important to seize the opportunity".

The P5+1 powers want a "first phase" deal whereby Iran freezes the most sensitive parts of its nuclear activities while a long-term accord is hammered out.

But the question is whether Iran, seeking an easing of UN, US and EU sanctions that have more than halved the country's lifeblood oil exports, will accept what it is being offered in return.

On the table in Geneva is only a "limited, temporary, target and reversible" relief package that a senior US official said "will not come anywhere near helping Iran escape the hole that we've put them in".

"We will maintain the sanctions as long as we are not certain that Iran has definitively and irreversibly renounced its military programme to obtain nuclear weapons," French President François Hollande said in Israel on Monday.

If his "charm offensive" fails, Rohani, whose election this year has raised big hopes of a breakthrough and an entente with the West, risks losing the support of Iran's supreme leader, experts say.

Divide on enrichment

Uranium enrichment is the main worry for the international community since enriched uranium has civilian uses but can also be used to make a bomb.

Iran already has enough for several bombs if it chose to enrich further to weapons-grade, a "breakout" that – for now – would be detected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

Hardliners in Israel and the United States want all enrichment to stop – as multiple UN Security Council resolutions have demanded – and Iran's entire stockpile of enriched uranium removed.

But the P5+1 are happy with the suspension of enrichment to medium levels and the reduction of Iran's stockpiles of material enriched to this level, as well as more IAEA inspections and a halt to work at the Arak reactor.

Israel, where many see the country's very existence at risk by a nuclear-armed Iran and which is widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, has refused to rule out bombing Iran.

"The P5+1 are giving Iran a great deal, Iran is giving practically nothing. That's a bad deal," Netanyahu told Germany's Bild newspaper on Monday.

Obama meanwhile is trying to dissuade US lawmakers from piling more sanctions on Iran, something which could scupper diplomatic efforts and prompt Iran to expand its nuclear activities once again. An IAEA report released last week said that Iran had halted its rapid expansion of its uranium enrichment capacity.

"There is a real possibility that Congress could throw a monkey wrench into the diplomacy," Mark Fitzpatrick, from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AFP.

On Tuesday Obama met with key senators at the White House, telling them to save their "robust" new sanctions for if or when Iran fails "to follow through on its commitments".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

Date created : 2013-11-20

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