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President Barack Obama meets in the Oval Office with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Deputy National Security Advisors Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes, to discuss ongoing negotiations with Iran, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
“The interim deal has been and will continue to be met with healthy skepticism and hard questions, not just of the Iranians, but of ourselves and our allies involved in the negotiations. Iran has a history of obfuscation that demands verification of its activities and places the burden on the regime to prove it is upholding its obligations in good faith while a final deal is pursued.
“The Administration and its negotiating partners claim that a final deal can be completed that affirms Iran does not have a right to enrich and permanently and irreversibly dismantles the infrastructure of its uranium and plutonium nuclear programs. That is a goal the House shares. The lingering question, however, is whether the negotiating partners will work equally hard to preserve the strong international sanctions regime until that goal is achieved. Otherwise, we will look back on the interim deal as a remarkably clever Iranian move to dismantle the international sanctions regime while maintaining its infrastructure and material to pursue a break-out nuclear capability.
“The House looks forward to the Administration providing a briefing on the interim deal and the next steps.”
New York, 23 November 2013 - Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the nuclear programme of Iran
The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the interim agreement that has been reached in Geneva this night regarding the nuclear programme of Iran.
He congratulates the negotiators for the progress made in what could turn out to be the beginnings of a historic agreement for the peoples and nations of the Middle East region and beyond.
He urges the Governments concerned to do everything possible to build on this encouraging start, creating mutual confidence and allowing continued negotiations to extend the scope of this initial agreement. The Secretary-General reaffirms his unswerving commitment to strengthening nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation regime.
The Secretary-General calls on all members of the international community to support this process which, if allowed to succeed, is likely to be to the long-term benefit of all parties.
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.
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."
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."
For the past several weeks, the world's attention has been fixed on a Geneva luxury hotel where Western negotiators and their Iranian counterparts have flitted in and out in search of a deal to end the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program. But the real action, it turns out, took place 3,000 miles away in the Omani city of Muscat.
Working through the Sultan Qaboos-bin-Said, the ruler of Oman, U.S. diplomats have secretly huddled with a team of Iranian diplomats since 2011 to carry out bilateral talks aimed at securing an agreement to put the brakes on Iran's nuclear ambitions. While negotiations in Geneva appear to have generated all-important consensus among Western powers, the meat of the agreement looks to have been hammered out in Muscat, far from the prying eyes of the international media gathered in the Swiss city.
That subplot -- secret negotiations carried out in a little-known Middle Eastern capital known for the production of exceptionally aromatic frankincense -- has added a level of subterfuge to what is already one of the biggest diplomatic developments in recent memory. That a landmark nuclear deal could be worked out in secret is perhaps not surprising but it does cast the spotlight on the man who shepherded the agreement.
Iran will pursue construction at the Arak heavy-water reactor, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quoted as saying on Wednesday, despite a deal with world powers to shelve a project they fear could yield plutonium for atomic bombs.
France, one of the six powers that negotiated Sunday's landmark initial accord with Iran to curb its disputed nuclear program, said in response to Zarif's statement that Tehran had to stick to what was agreed in the Geneva talks.
According to the agreed text, Iran said it would not make "any further advances of its activities" on the Arak reactor, under construction near a western Iranian town with that name.
"Capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there," Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast on Iran's Press TV.
But perhaps the most important concession is that the P5+1 are allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium below five percent. Iran maintains that this is no concession but is, rather, recognition of the country’s inalienable right under the NPT to enrich uranium on its own soil. For his part, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insists that the interim agreement does not recognize any such right and that Iran is entitled to limited enrichment for peaceful purposes only if it complies with all provisions of the NPT.
Kerry's literal reading of the agreement is probably correct. Still, there is no denying that, on substance, Iran wins this round. And it is for precisely that reason that the deal’s opponents decry it. But any Iranian leader who agreed to zero enrichment would be writing his own political obituary. So unless the United States was prepared to attack Iran, occupy it, and change its regime, it was always unrealistic to expect Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear program or agree to zero enrichment. There is thus some basis to the argument that the recent agreement has implicitly recognized Iran as a threshold nuclear power, a power with the knowledge, expertise, infrastructure, and technology to build a bomb.
In the same way, any new congressional sanctions on Iran would be a deal breaker, since the interim agreement expressly prohibits them. If the United States attempts to impose any now, the negotiations would falter and the existing sanctions regime would crumble. Iran could then resume or even accelerate its enrichment activities. Imposing more sanctions on Iran is thus not a sustainable alternative policy to the current agreement. Perhaps understanding this, the U.S. Congress appears unlikely to impose any new sanctions for the next six months as sensitive negotiations proceed. However, a bipartisan group of senators led by Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is already preparing contingency sanctions legislation that the group would introduce should the negotiations fail.