Iran faces a new test with United Nations monitors after failing to convince world powers the time was right to reduce tension over its nuclear work.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano led a delegation of inspectors that arrived in Tehran today for negotiations aimed at widening access to people and places connected with Iran’s nuclear work. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said his country is ready to improve cooperation.
Zarif and Amano appeared live on state television before they went into a meeting. The foreign minister told reporters the two sides had reached an unspecified understanding that experts would need to review. He didn’t elaborate.
Amano voiced hope that “today’s meeting will produce a concrete result.”
The IAEA team arrived in Iran following three days of discussions in Geneva between Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and their counterparts from China, France, Germany and the U.K. A potential accord broke down on the last day after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted on an additional concession from Iran.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement posted on the Twitter website that France has been “openly hostile” toward his country in recent years in what amounted to an “imprudent and inept” stance.
Specter of War
The Vienna-based IAEA’s decade-long investigation into alleged past nuclear-weapons work has underpinned international concerns about a program that has cast the specter of war and proliferation across the Middle East. Iran insists its program is peaceful.
U.S. diplomats were positive about the Geneva talks.
“We not only narrowed differences and clarified those that remain, but we made significant progress in working through the approaches to this question of how one brings in a program that guarantees this peaceful nature,” Kerry told reporters yesterday. “There’s no question in my mind that we are closer now” to an agreement.
Another round of talks in Geneva has been scheduled for Nov. 20, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said yesterday. Officials will negotiate issues including those France’s Fabius raised, she said.
Fabius said in a Nov. 9 France Inter radio interview, “We want an agreement, but not a fool’s bargain.” He objected to letting Iran keep building a heavy-water reactor in Arak that can produce plutonium.
Nuclear weapons can be made with highly enriched uranium, which Iran is already capable of producing, or plutonium extracted from spent-fuel used in heavy water reactors.
The pause in talks gives opponents in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Washington time to lobby against any deal that would allow Iran to keep sensitive nuclear technologies and to press for new economic sanctions on Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he urged President Barack Obama and leaders of other countries involved in the talks to reject any deal with Iran that doesn’t curb or dismantle its ability to produce a nuclear weapon.
“I told them that according to the information reaching Israel, the apparent deal is bad and dangerous,” Netanyahu said yesterday in remarks broadcast from the weekly cabinet meeting. “It is dangerous not just for us, it is also dangerous for them.”
After a stop in Abu Dhabi yesterday, Kerry flew back to Washington to brief lawmakers and try to head off further congressional penalties that Obama’s administration says could scuttle an accord.
The deal weighed in Geneva offered Iran a temporary easing of sanctions on petrochemicals, gold and auto trade and some access to frozen assets, according to diplomats who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak.
Zarif told reporters yesterday that differences among the parties were to be expected, yet he said he was pleased that all were “on the same wavelength” and “can build on and move forward” from the latest talks.
In a separate briefing, Zarif declined to fault the French foreign minister for raising the issue of the plutonium reactor or obstructing a deal.
“We were discussing nuclear issues and for a country to bring up heavy water is not strange,” Zarif said. “We don’t want anyone to think we are after nuclear weapons.”