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Saturday night had turned into Sunday morning and four days of talks over Iran's nuclear program had already gone so far over schedule that the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel had been given over to another event.
A black tie charity ball was finishing up and singers with an after party band at a bar above the lobby were crooning out the words to a Johnny Cash song - "I fell into a burning ring of fire" - while weary diplomats in nearby conference rooms were trying to polish off the last touches of an accord. Negotiators emerged complaining that the hotel lobby smelled like beer.
At around 2:00 a.m., U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from Britain,China, France, Germany and Russia were brought to a conference room to approve a final text of the agreement which would provide limited relief of sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program.
At the last minute, with the ministers already gathered in the room, an Iranian official called seeking changes. Negotiators for the global powers refused. Finally the ministers were given the all clear. The deal, a decade in the making, would be done at last.
Now that the interim deal is signed, talks are far from over as the parties work towards a final accord that would lay to rest all doubts about Iran's nuclear program.
But in its account of the deal, the White House appears to have fudged two key details of the deal dealing with concessions to Iran.
In its fact sheet on the agreement, the White House says that Iran must now "dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase."
That's technically true, but it glosses over a key point.
The accord states that half of the 20%-enriched uranium will be converted into a powder fuel destined for the Tehran Research Reactor — you know, for research. However not everyone is convinced the fuel will be used for that purpose, and Israel has said it would be relatively simple to reconvert the powder back into the enriched uranium used to make a nuke. "They have no problem converting back what they allegedly turned to nuclear fuel," Israel's former military intelligence chief said earlier this year. "Within a week, it could be turned into nuclear material for a bomb."
Actually, there is disagreement concerning how long the reconversion process would actually take. Carnegie Endowment fellow Mark Hibbs says three weeks. As we reported, Harvard's Olli Heinon says two months, and that in any event reconversion is expressly prohibited by the agreement (which may explain why the White House omitted that fact). The Wall Street Journal says that the full process of reconverting the fuel and then constructing a nuke would take six months. Plus, the new inspection regimes are now daily, which increases the odds that any attempt at a "breakout" from the agreement to build a nuke detected in real time, though Hibbs says the reconversion process can be carried out on the sly.
Is Tehran’s willingness to compromise credible?
After nearly a decade of difficult negotiations without any result, we now for the first time have agreed on important initial steps. During these talks, President Rouhani and the new Iranian leadership did what they previously announced, also at the United Nations General Assembly in September: they made substantial concessions and worked seriously towards reaching a solution. We have taken a major step towards our goal of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.
Is Israel's blunt rejection of the project exaggerated?
We and our partners in theE3+3 group will now talk to Israel to explain the agreements that have been reached, as well as our position. We will not lose sight of the common objective we share with Israel, namely preventing Iran from securing a nuclear weapon. Already in the coming months, we will see whether Iran is verifiably adhering to what has been agreed. Also, negotiations with Iran will continue. Saturday night’s agreement will last for six months. We want to fully use this time to work towards a permanent solution. Of course, we will always bear in mind the interests of Israel.
Last weekend's Iran pact - a preliminary agreement on modest sanctions relief in exchange for temporary curbs on Iran's nuclear activities - was no case of accidental diplomacy.
Obama promised to seek direct engagement with Iran and other U.S. enemies during the 2008 presidential campaign, drawing accusations from Republicans that he was promoting appeasement.
He then used his first inaugural address in 2009 to offer to extend a hand if the Iranian leadership would "unclench their fist." After being snubbed, he galvanized international support for crippling sanctions that ultimately forced Tehran into the latest negotiations.
Obama instructed his aides to arrange the historic telephone conversation he had with Iran's relatively moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in September, and authorized secret bilateral talks that laid the groundwork for the more formal Geneva rounds between Iran and world powers, U.S. officials say.
On Saturday, Kerry spoke by phone to Obama from Geneva to discuss the outstanding issues in the final tense stages of negotiations, a senior State Department official said. "This went all the way up to (Obama) personally approving the final language," the official said.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday the Senate will consider legislation next month to impose tighter sanctions on Iran, but only after studying the issue and possibly holding hearings.
Reid said he would look to fellow Democrats Tim Johnson, chairman of the Banking Committee, and Robert Menendez, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, for a decision after the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving holiday recess on December 9.
"They will study this, they will hold hearings if necessary, and if we need work on this, if we need stronger sanctions, I am sure we will do that," Reid said on National Public Radio.
European Union sanctions against Iran could be eased as soon as December, officials said Monday in response to a historic interim deal that gives Tehran six months to increase access to its nuclear sites in exchange for keeping the core components of its uranium program.
The deal, announced in Geneva Saturday, also envisions lifting some of the sanctions that have crippled the country's economy. The sanctions were instituted over fears that Tehran is using its nuclear program to build atomic weapons, something Iran has denied.
"A Europe-wide decision is necessary" to ease EU sanctions, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio. "That's expected in several weeks, for a partial lifting that is targeted, reversible."
"It could be in December, it could be in January, it depends on how long the legislative process takes," EU foreign affairs spokesman Michael Mann told reporters in Brussels.President Barack Obama on Monday defended the agreement, declaring that the United States "cannot close the door on diplomacy."
"It's kind of like Jimmy Carter all over again," said Clair Cortland Barnes, now retired and living in Leland, N.C., after a career at the CIA and elsewhere. He sees the negotiations now as no more effective than they were in 1979 and 1980, when he and others languished, facing mock executions and other torments. The hostage crisis began in November of 1979 when militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and seized its occupants.
Retired Air Force Col. Thomas E. Schaefer, 83, called the deal "foolishness."
"My personal view is, I never found an Iranian leader I can trust," he said. "I don't think today it's any different from when I was there. None of them, I think, can be trusted. Why make an agreement with people you can't trust?"
Leading Democratic and Republican senators are crafting legislation to reinstate the full force of sanctions and impose new ones if Iran doesn't make good on its pledge to roll back its nuclear program, brushing aside the Obama administration's fears about upending its diplomatic momentum.
Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., hope to have the bill ready for other lawmakers to consider when the Senate returns Dec. 9 from its two-week recess, according to legislative aides. Many in Congress are skeptical, if not outright hostile, to the deal reached by Iran and world powers over the weekend in Geneva.
The Kirk-Menendez measure would require the administration to certify every 30 days that Iran is adhering to the terms of the six-month interim agreement and that it hasn't been involved in any act of terrorism against the United States.
Without that certification, sanctions worth more than $1 billion a month would be re-imposed and new sanctions would be added. The new measures would include bans on investing in Iran's engineering, mining and construction industries and a global boycott of Iranian oil by 2015. Foreign companies and banks violating the sanctions would be barred from doing business in the United States.
It was early December 2011 and the US Senate was poised to hold a crucial vote on the nomination of Richard Cordray to head President Obama’s controversial new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But John Kerry, the senior senator from Massachusetts, was nowhere to be found.
His office was uncharacteristically mum about his whereabouts, saying only that he was not in Washington. “Does anybody know why Kerry did not vote on Cordray’s nomination?” asked a Democratic blogger, puzzled that Kerry would miss casting a vote for a former campaign worker.
It turns out Kerry was on a secret trip to Oman — a trip with an importance that can be appreciated fully only now, following the historic nuclear agreement reached with Iran over the weekend.
Kerry, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was sequestered in an ornate palace in Muscat, the Omani capital. There, in a delicate meeting with Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, the ruler of the desert kingdom who overthrew his father in 1970, Kerry was trying to open a secret dialogue between the United States and Iran.
Iran's nuclear deal with the West will make it easier, cheaper and less stressful to trade its oil, thanks largely to a partial lifting of the European shipping insurance ban, a senior Iranian industry official said on Tuesday.Iran and six world powers reached a deal on Sunday to curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, including a pledge to allow some Iran oil shipments to be covered by UK-dominated providers of shipping insurance.U.S. and European Union (EU) sanctions that have slashed Tehran's oil exports from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) to around 1 million bpd remain in place and Washington has said that it will not allow exports to rise above current levels."Based on this deal, Iran's crude oil exports will not decline and our customers will be able to purchase oil from Iran without any anxiety and they will not have to look for alternatives," Ali Majedi, deputy minister for international affairs and trading, told oil ministry news service Shana.
What you have gained, an appreciation and thanks for the nuclear negotiation body and officials is befitting, and can be the basis for the next wise steps. Undoubtedly, the ... prayers and the backing of the Iranian nation was the factor in this success, and will be in the future. God willing, persistence against those who want too much has to always be the criteria for the straight path of the officials, and will always be, God willing.(Translation via Al-Monitor's Arash Karami)
You, as Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are presented the revised document late, as talks are drawing to a close. But the changes mean that you must consult with Tehran, forcing another round of talks: Geneva III.
Later you are surprised to hear US Secretary of State John Kerry blame Iran for the breakdown, for not being able to accept the deal "at that particular moment," despite "unity" by the P5+1 over their "fair proposal."How do you respond? In the old days – and if Iran and the US had not severed diplomatic ties 34 years ago – you might have issued a demarche to Washington, demanding a more accurate accounting.
But instead you turn to Twitter, as a member of Iran's new presidential administration who has become adept as communicating directly with the outside world through Twitter and Facebook.
"Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? and publicly commented against it Friday morning?" you tweet, referring to the French role as spoiler. Within minutes, your tweet has been picked up by the wire agencies, and Iran's complaint is "official."