Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Mending legs on Iran

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s broken leg could ease the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme, writes Camelia Entekhabifard in New York

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On 2 April, when Iran and the negotiators of the P5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) reached the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme in Lausanne, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif was optimistic about reaching a final agreement before the deadline on 1 July.

‌But with less than three weeks left before the deadline, the possibility of reaching a final deal is hazy. US Secretary of State John Kerry broke his leg while visiting Geneva to meet his Iranian counterpart almost a week ago. Not only has Kerry’s leg been broken, it seems that one of the legs of the negotiation has been broken too.

‌Fixing the negotiations will be possible only if Kerry’s leg is mended in time for him to return to the nuclear talks in the short time remaining before the deadline. But even at this last hour, negotiators claim that the final deal will be slow to decide owing to some unresolved issues.

‌These mainly relate to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demand to send its inspectors to some military sites in Iran that may be suspected of activities related to the country’s nuclear programme, as well as to interview Iranian nuclear scientists when Iran accepts the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

‌Iran has agreed to accept the additional protocol to the NPT but has not given permission for inspection of its military sites or for inspectors to interview its scientists, saying that this obligation is not part of the protocol.

‌Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has disagreed with the “managed inspections” suggested by the Iranian negotiators and has objected to “interrogations of Iran’s scientists.”

‌With the absence of Kerry from the negotiations, at least temporarily, it is hard to say, with only a short time left before the deadline, whether or not the negotiators can find a solution to the demands.

‌One top Iranian negotiator, Hamid Baedinejad, has argued that the NPT additional protocol and interviews with the scientists are not part of the comprehensive deal to be included in the final draft of the agreement.

‌This may give the negotiators carte blanche to continue working until the deadline, but there are opponents in the US to the final deal who do not want to see the country rushing into it if it is in favour of Iran. At the same time, there are also opponents to the deal in Iran who feel it is important not to show weakness before the deadline.

‌But the deadline of 1 July may soften the negotiators’ positions, especially if Iran will benefit most from the final deal. The country is under pressure economically and regionally, and a possible deal will ease the sanctions on it, improve its economy and enhance its presence in the region.

‌Iran’s concentration on the nuclear talks has prevented the government from paying more attention to the wars in Yemen and Syria and the role Iran is playing in them. If a nuclear deal is sealed, these pressures will be reduced, allowing the Iranian government a freer hand to act in Syria and Iraq to eliminate the threat of Islamic State (IS) and gain prestige in the international community.

‌Iran also needs access to its frozen assets abroad, and despite the slow progress it is eager to find a solution and end two years of intense negotiations. However, US senators are also waiting to push for more sanctions if the talks fail, and the Israelis are in favour of an extension to the talks in order to buy more time to jeopardise the whole negotiations if Iran cannot seal a deal by the deadline.

‌Senior Israeli officials pressed the Obama administration this week to extend the nuclear negotiations with Tehran beyond the deadline, with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz saying in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday that a deal with Iran could “prove fatal” to Israel’s long-term security.

‌Abass Araghchi, a top Iranian nuclear negotiator, said recently that the drafting of a final deal was proceeding “slowly” as the issue is filled with “sensitivities” and “complexities.” Araghchi did not say the delays are related to the IAEA demands to inspect the military sites, but instead said they relate to “other matters.”

‌Speaking to the Iranian media upon his arrival in Tehran from Vienna on 6 June, Araghchi cited the annexes related to technical issues and implementation of a final agreement.

‌The negotiators are clever enough to understand the benefits of a final deal for all concerned, and observers are waiting for further developments, including whether or not Kerry will be able to attend the next talks with Zarif.

‌A senior diplomat involved in the negotiations said on condition of anonymity that the absence of Kerry at this stage could help the talks to stay out of the media spotlight.

‌“All the media attention and speculation was a threat to the talks. Kerry’s leg will mend, but if the talks are broken, mending them will be if not impossible then at least very hard to do,” he said.

‌Meanwhile, expert-level talks are continuing in Vienna, and it is not yet clear when the ministerial level talks will resume in advance of the deadline.

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