Com­mit­ments made, Iran and 6 pow­ers ad­vance tough nuke talks

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATTHEW LEE AND GE­ORGE JAHN

With one phase of nu­clear talks over, Iran and six world pow­ers now have an am­bi­tious to-do list that -- if im­ple­mented -- will cut sig­nif­i­cantly into Iran’s bomb-ca­pa­ble tech­nol­ogy while giv­ing Tehran quick ac­cess to bank ac­counts, oil mar­kets and other fi­nan­cial as­sets blocked by in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

But the deal is far from done. The sides have been work­ing on a sub­stan­tive re­sult for nearly two years. Af­ter a week of gru­el­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, they man­aged on Thurs­day only to draw up a se­ries of com­mit­ments that still must be worked out in de­tail be­fore June 30. That is the dead­line agreed on months be­fore ne­go­tia­tors sat down in Lau­sanne for the fi­nal hag­gling.

If im­ple­mented, the un­der­tak­ings will sub­stan­tially pare back some Ira­nian nu­clear as­sets for a decade and re­strict oth­ers for an ad­di­tional five years. It would be the first sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess for the United States and its part­ners in more than a decade of diplo­matic ef­forts fo­cus­ing on cap­ping Tehran’s nu­clear ad­vance.

Yet even be­fore the talks cul­mi­nated in the pre­lim­i­nary out­line of what needs be done, both sides warned of the hard work ahead. And the bickering be­gan just a few hours af­ter the sides signed off on their pre­lim­i­nary un­der­stand­ing.

“There is no need to spin us­ing ‘fact sheets’ so early on,” tweeted Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif, in a ref­er­ence to a public doc­u­ment re­leased by the United States list­ing both sides’ com­mit­ments. He also ques­tioned some of the as­ser­tions con­tained in the doc­u­ment, such as the speed of a U.S. sanc­tions draw­down.

Ac­cord­ing to that text, many of the nu­clear lim­its on Iran would be in place for a decade, while oth­ers would last 15 or 20 years. Sanc­tions re­lated to Iran’s nu­clear pro­grams would be suspended by the U.S. and the Euro­pean Union and eased by the U.N. af­ter the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency con­firmed Iran’s com­pli­ance.

The fact sheet also says Tehran is com­mit­ted to sig­nif­i­cant cuts in cen­trifuges, the ma­chines that can spin ura­nium gas to lev­els used in nu­clear war­heads. Of the nearly 20,000 cen­trifuges Iran now has in­stalled or run­ning at its main en­rich­ment site, the coun­try would be al­lowed to op­er­ate just over 5,000. Much of its en­riched stock­piles would be neu­tral­ized. A planned re­ac­tor would be re­con­structed so it pro­duced no weapons-grade plu­to­nium. Mon­i­tor­ing and in­spec­tions by the U.N. nu­clear agency would be en­hanced.

Op­po­nents of the emerg­ing ac­cord, in­clud­ing Is­rael and Repub­li­can lead­ers in Congress, re­acted with skep­ti­cism. They crit­i­cized the out­line for fail­ing to do enough to curb Iran’s po­ten­tial to pro­duce nu­clear weapons or to man­date in­tru­sive enough in­spec­tions. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who seeks an Iran nu­clear deal as a cap­stone of his pres­i­dency, dis­agreed.

'Cut off ev­ery path­way'

“This frame­work would cut off ev­ery path­way that Iran could take to de­velop a nu­clear weapon,” Obama de­clared. “This deal is not based on trust. It’s based on un­prece­dented verification.”

Amer­ica’s ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners in Europe strongly backed the re­sult. Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande of France, who had pushed the U.S. for a tougher stance, en­dorsed the ac­cord while warn­ing that “sanc­tions lifted can be re-es­tab­lished if the agree­ment is not ap­plied.”

French For­eign Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius claimed credit for his coun- try for the fi­nal re­sult.

“The Amer­i­cans and the Ira­ni­ans pro­posed a text, but we said ‘no’ be­cause the pres­i­dent (Hol­lande) and my­self con­sid­ered that it wasn’t solid enough,” he said. Ap­par­ently al­lud­ing to Zarif, he said, “the Ira­nian threat­ened to go home and quit. But in the end he stayed at the ta­ble.”

Obama sought to frame the deal as nec­es­sary to re­duce the chances of the com­bustible Mid­dle East be­com­ing even more un­sta­ble with the in­tro­duc­tion of a nu­clear-armed Iran. Many fear that would spark an arms race that could spi­ral out of con­trol in a re­gion rife with sec­tar­ian ri­valry, ter­ror­ist threats and weak or failed states.

Obama said he had spo­ken with Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man and that he’d in­vite him and other Arab lead­ers to the pres­i­den­tial retreat at Camp David this spring to dis­cuss se­cu­rity strat­egy. The Sunni-ma­jor­ity Saudis have made veiled threats about cre­at­ing their own nu­clear pro­gram to counter Shia-led Iran.

The Amer­i­can leader also spoke by tele­phone with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu, per­haps the sharpest critic of the diplo­macy with Iran. Ne­tanyahu told Obama a deal based on the agree­ment “would threaten the sur­vival of Is­rael.” The White House said Obama as­sured Ne­tanyahu that the agree­ment would not di­min­ish U.S. con­cerns about Iran’s spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ism and threats to­ward Is­rael.

Obama saved his sharpest words for mem­bers of Congress who have threat­ened to ei­ther try to kill the agree­ment or ap­prove new sanc­tions against Iran. Ap­pear­ing in the Rose Gar­den of the White House, he said the is­sues at stake are “big­ger than pol­i­tics.”

“Th­ese are mat­ters of war and peace,” Obama said, and if Congress kills the agree­ment “in­ter­na­tional unity will col­lapse, and the path to con­flict will widen.”

Hawks on Capitol Hill re­acted slowly to the news. House Speaker John Boehner said it would be “naive to sug­gest the Ira­nian regime will not con­tinue to use its nu­clear pro­gram, and any eco­nomic re­lief, to fur­ther desta­bi­lize the re­gion.”

Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said his panel would vote this month on leg­is­la­tion giv­ing Congress the right to vote on a fi­nal deal. Fresh­man Sen. Tom Cot­ton, R-Ark., who penned a let­ter that many GOP sen­a­tors signed last month to Iran’s lead­ers, said he would work “to pro­tect Amer­ica from this very danger­ous pro­posal.”

In a joint state­ment, Euro­pean Union for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini and Iran’s Zarif called the agree­ment a “de­ci­sive step.”

All sides spoke with a note of cau­tion. “We have taken a ma­jor step, but are still some way away from where we want to be,” Zarif told re­porters, even as he voiced hope that a fi­nal agree­ment might ease sus­pi­cion be­tween the U.S. and Iran, which haven’t had diplo­matic re­la­tions since the 1979 over­throw of the shah and the sub­se­quent U.S. Em­bassy hostage cri­sis in Tehran.

Kerry lashed out at crit­ics who wanted tougher caps on Iran’s nu­clear as­sets. “Sim­ply de­mand­ing that Iran ca­pit­u­late makes a nice sound bite, but it is not a pol­icy,” Kerry said. “It is not a re­al­is­tic plan.”

AP

Ira­ni­ans cel­e­brate on a street in north­ern Tehran, Iran on Thurs­day, April 2, af­ter Iran’s nu­clear agree­ment with world pow­ers in Lau­sanne, Switzer­land.

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