Monday, March 30, 2015

Down To The Wire With Iran

U.S. Sees 50/50 Chance Of Iran Deal By Tuesday Deadline

The US State Department said it believes there is a 50 percent chance of reaching a framework accord with Iran by Tuesday, as negotiators raced to finalize a deal with Tehran over its nuclear program before a March 31 midnight deadline.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted by Reuters Monday as saying that the chances of an agreement with Iran stood at 50-50.

It is unclear what move the six world powers, known as P5+1, will take in the event of a negotiations breakdown, but Harf indicated that all options remain on the table.

“We’re focused on these next 24 hours, they’re very crucial. We know that diplomacy is the best way to handle this, but we have other options if we can’t get this done diplomatically,” Harf told MSNBC news Monday from the Swiss resort town of Lausanne, where diplomats had gathered to hammer out an accord.

“The president and Secretary [of State John] Kerry have been very clear that the end of March is a real deadline and the decision the Iranians have to make isn’t going to get any easier the longer they wait,” Harf said. “We have been very clear: We’re not going to take a bad deal.”

Negotiations with Tehran over its controversial nuclear project have been underway since late 2013. Iran insists that its program will only be used for peaceful purposes, but other nations, notably Israel, fear that if economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic are relaxed as part of the agreement, Iran will clandestinely break out to the bomb.
Harf denied reports on Sunday that a deal with Tehran had been agreed and that the Iranians had backed out at the last moment.
“The notion that we had some agreement in the last 24 hours is factually inaccurate,” Harf said.
Asked by reporters what plans will be made in the event of a no-deal, Harf intoned that the US will have to take a “hard look” at its options, the outcome of which “I don’t want to predict.”

With Tuesday’s target date for a framework accord just hours away, the top diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany were meeting with Iran to try to bridge remaining gaps and hammer out an understanding that would serve as the basis for a final accord to be reached by the end of June.
“We are working late into the night and obviously into tomorrow,” said Kerry, who has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Lausanne since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Iran’s expectations from the talks are “very ambitious” and not yet acceptable to his country or the other five negotiating: the US, Britain, China, France and Russia.

“We will not allow a bad deal,” he said. “We will only arrive at a document that is ready to sign if it … excludes Iran getting access to nuclear weapons. We have not yet cleared this up.”
In a sign that the talks would go down to the wire on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left, just a day after arriving, to return to Moscow. His spokeswoman said he would will return to Lausanne on Tuesday only if there was a realistic chance for a deal.

Foreign ministers from major powers raced against the clock in the Swiss town of Lausanne Monday on the eve of a deadline to nail down the final pieces of a framework deal they hope will put any Iranian nuclear bomb out of reach.

Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Western powers that any agreement with Tehran would be seen as a reward for the country’s alleged “aggression” in Yemen.

“The agreement being formulated… sends a message that there is no price for aggression and, on the contrary, that Iran’s aggression is to be rewarded,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iranian support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“The moderate and responsible countries in the region, especially Israel and also many other countries, will be the first to be hurt by this agreement,” said the prime minister, who has waged a campaign against the emerging nuclear deal with Tehran, arguing that it will pave the way “to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

“One cannot understand that when forces supported by Iran continue to conquer more ground in Yemen, in Lausanne they are closing their eyes to this aggression,” Netanyahu said. “But we are not closing our eyes and we will continue to act against every threat in every generation, certainly in this generation.”

There are more than half a dozen shifting elements at play in the Iran nuclear deal currently being cobbled together in Lausanne, Switzerland – everything from the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges to the fate of the underground facility in Fordow to the possible military dimensions of the program. But the future, assuming a deal is reached, will hinge on monitoring and verification, and that, to borrow a phrase from an Obama insider, is a problem from hell.

The first challenge will be the detection of violations. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice told AIPAC earlier this month that “we’re not taking anything on trust.” Instead, she made the case that “we’ve insisted upon — and achieved — unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program,” including “daily access” to the nuclear sites at Natanz and Fordow.

Tellingly, though, the unparalleled access has failed to impress the International Atomic Energy Agency – a UN body that seems to have staked out territory to the right of the Obama administration.

In February, the agency said it “remains concerned” about the possible existence of military components of Iran’s nuclear program, “including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
Yukiya Amano, director general of the IAEA, told the Washington Post last week that “we would like to have access” – to the military installation at Parchin, where Iran allegedly conducted weaponization tests – “and we would like to clarify.”
In order to achieve any reasonable degree of transparency, the international community must have the ability to conduct  inspections “anytime, anyplace,” said Emily Landau, the head of the arms control and regional security program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
That means open access not only to Natanz and Fordow, and even Parchin, which has been denied to the IAEA since for years, but to any military installation or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps base in the country.

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