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Asia-pacific

Khamenei, US sceptical ahead of Iran nuclear talks

© AFP/HO / IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER'S WEBSITE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-18

Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers are set to proceed on Tuesday as negotiators begin work on an ambitious accord to durably ease fears about Tehran’s atomic ambitions.

But expectations were low ahead of the three-day meeting in Vienna between Iran and the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he was “not optimistic”, adding that he expected the talks to “lead nowhere”.

Despite that scepticism, Khamenei reiterated Iran’s commitment to the negotiations.

“What our officials started will continue. We will not renege. I have no opposition,” he told a crowd in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz.

Khamenei’s decision to pursue negotiations with the world powers is a result of Iran’s worsening economic conditions, diplomats and analysts say.

Meanwhile, US officials hardly seemed more hopeful. “It is probably as likely that we won’t get an agreement as it is that we will,” one senior US administration official told reporters in Vienna. “But these negotiations are the best chance we have ever had for diplomacy to solve this most pressing of national security challenges.”

Despite its denials, Iran has long been suspected of seeking nuclear weapons, while the US and Israel, which is widely assumed itself to have a secret nuclear arsenal itself, have never ruled out military action.

On November 24 in Geneva, foreign ministers from the seven world powers reached an interim deal according to which Iran would have to reduce certain nuclear activities in exchange for an easing of some sanctions.

Hailed as a breakthrough – it was the first time the West accepted Iran enriching uranium -- the agreement took effect on January 20, but only lasts until July 20.

Seeking a ‘comprehensive deal’

The “comprehensive” deal that the parties in Vienna are seeking would see Iran permanently scaling back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of all UN Security Council, US, and EU sanctions.

Added to more rigorous UN inspections, such an agreement would make it significantly harder for Iran to get the bomb.

In exchange, all UN Security Council, US and EU sanctions on Iran — which are costing it billions of dollars every week in lost oil revenues, wreaking havoc on the economy — would be lifted.

But Iran has established a set of “red lines” before the talks, one of which is the dismantling of any facilities.

During a decade of on-and-off negotiations with world powers, Iran has rejected allegations by the West that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, insisting that its nuclear work is for power generation and medical purposes.

The senior diplomats in Vienna, led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, are aware that whatever agreement they forge with Iran will have to be sold not only to other countries like Israel and the Sunni Gulf monarchies, but also back home.

US President Barack Obama will have to face members of Congress, who have demanded that nothing short of a total dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear facilities would be acceptable.

On the other hand, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose election in 2013 has helped thaw relations with the West, is already the target of hardliners seeking to turn Khamenei against him.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)


Date created : 2014-02-18

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