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Iran nuclear talks stall over 'right to enrich' uranium

© Photo: AFP

Video by Stephen Carroll

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-22

France and Iran traded tough rhetoric Thursday as world powers struggled to finalise a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions, with Tehran insisting on some acknowledgement of its "right" to enrich uranium.

France and Iran ratcheted up the rhetoric on Thursday as world powers struggled to finalise an interim deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions, while Tehran insisted that any deal struck in Geneva must acknowledge its "right" to enrich uranium.

The sticking points in the dispute include a demand from the the so-called six powers for a shutdown of the Arak heavy-water reactor project and the extent of sanctions relief on the table, as well as Iran's insistence on an acknowledgement of its "right to enrich" uranium for energy purposes – a right the United States, France and other Western powers have refused to acknowledge.

The six powers at the key talks comprise United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi has said that “enrichment is our red line, but we can discuss the level and the amount”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that the issue of whether Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium in the longer term would not be decided in the interim deal.

A senior Iranian delegation member, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Tehran understood that not all oil and banking sanctions could be removed “in one go”, but that enrichment was a key requirement and that any deal “should have a paragraph on it", adding: “If that element is not there, there will be no deal.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hinted at a possible way around this issue last weekend – Iran could insist on its own right to enrich uranium without requiring others to explicitly recognise it.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who spoke out against a draft deal floated at the Nov. 7-9 negotiating round, was asked by France 2 television on Thursday if there could be a deal during this latest round of negotiations.

“I hope so," Fabius said. "But this agreement can only be possible based on firmness. For now the Iranians have not been able to accept the position of the six [nations]. I hope they will accept it.”

In what appeared to be a response targeted at France, Araqchi said: “We have lost our trust... We cannot enter serious talks until the trust is restored. But that doesn’t mean that we will stop negotiations.”

Asked how trust could be restored, he said: “If they (the six powers) create one front, and stick with united words.”

No breakthrough

Each side appeared to be warning against expectations of an imminent breakthrough after talks came close to winning concessions from Tehran in the last round of negotiations two weeks ago.

But finding common ground on the contours of an accord designed to start removing the risk of Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability – an intention it denies having – was proving to be an uphill battle.

“Lots of progress was made last time, but considerable gaps remain, and we have to narrow the gaps,” said a senior Western diplomat. “Some issues really need to be clarified. I sensed a real commitment ... from both sides. Will it happen? We will see. But, as always, the devil is in the details.”

Zarif, Tehran’s chief negotiator, told Iran’s ISNA students news agency that the talks were going well though “differences of views” remain.

Under discussion is an Iranian suspension of some sensitive nuclear activities, above all medium-level uranium enrichment, in exchange for modest sanctions relief – releasing some Iranian funds long frozen in foreign accounts, allowing trade in precious metals, the United States relaxing pressure on other countries not to buy Iranian oil and other measures.

The Iranians have made clear, diplomats in the talks say, that they are most interested in resuming oil sales and getting respite from restrictions on Iranian banking and financial transactions that have crippled the oil-dependent economy.

US-Iran talks 

The Iranians held a bilateral session late on Wednesday with the US delegation, headed by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official said, without elaborating.

Despite the presence of six powers, it is ultimately Iran and the United States who have the power to make or break a deal, diplomats say. Relations between the two were suspended after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The State Department official said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, coordinating contacts with Iran on behalf of the powers, sought in meetings with Zarif to close gaps between the two sides. Big power delegations also conducted their own strategy sessions throughout the day.

Policymakers from the six governments have said an interim accord on confidence-building steps could be within reach to defuse a decade-old stand-off and dispel the spectre of a wider Middle East war over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions.

For the six powers, an interim deal would have Iran stop refining uranium to a concentration of 20 percent – a relatively short step away from weapons-grade material, accept more exhaustive UN nuclear inspections and mothball the Arak reactor, a potential source of weapons-grade plutonium.

Israel has rejected this suggestion, saying it offers Iran too much for too little by leaving its enrichment infrastructure, and therefore bomb-making potential, intact.

The Israeli criticism has resonated in the US Congress, where sceptics are calling for further US sanctions against Tehran, something President Barack Obama’s administration has warned could derail the negotiations in Geneva.

The interim arrangement under consideration calls for a six-month period of sanctions relief for Tehran that would give Iran and the powers time to craft a broad, permanent accord.

The United States has said the majority of sanctions will remain in place and any temporary sanctions relief would be cancelled if no long-lasting agreement with Tehran is reached, or if the Iranians violate the terms of the interim deal.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-11-21

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