Two sides in Iran talks trade blame

The ac­cu­sa­tions of back­track­ing come as six world pow­ers and Tehran seek to fi­nal­ize a nu­clear agree­ment.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Paul Richter and Ramin Mostaghim paul. richter@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ Richt­Pau Times staff writer Richter re­ported from Vi­enna and spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Mostaghim from Tehran.

VI­ENNA — As ne­go­tia­tors bat­tle over the f inal terms of a nu­clear agree­ment, Iran and six world pow­ers have be­gun bick­er­ing over an im­por­tant side is­sue: who gets the blame if the deal falls through.

In re­cent days, as diplo­mats have hud­dled in a por­ti­coed 19th cen­tury palace in Vi­enna, the Aus­trian cap­i­tal, Western of­fi­cials have ac­cused the Ira­ni­ans of back­track­ing on com­mit­ments they made in a pre­lim­i­nary deal reached April 2 in Lausanne, Switzer­land. Of­fi­cials have pointed to com­ments by Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, who last week ap­peared to lay down tough new terms that con­tra­dicted what U. S. of­fi­cials say had been agreed to three months ago.

Ira­nian of­fi­cials coun­tered, say­ing U. S. of­fi­cials also have been back­track­ing, but they seem in­creas­ingly wor­ried that if the talks break down this week, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will hold their side pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble.

The ar­gu­ment is about more than just na­tional pride.

In ad­di­tion to Iran and the U. S., rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Bri­tain, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia and China are pur­su­ing a deal that would lift sanc­tions on Iran if its lead­ers ac­cept lim­its on its nu­clear pro­gram.

If Iran is held re­spon­si­ble for a break­down of the 2year- old talks, many coun­tries would be far more will­ing to con­tinue — or even in­ten­sify — eco­nomic sanc- tions that have badly bat­tered Iran’s econ­omy. Iran has been hop­ing that the United States would get blamed for in­tran­si­gence and the world com­mu­nity would drop sanc­tions and start do­ing busi­ness again with the long- iso­lated Is­lamic Re­pub­lic.

The Western fo­cus on Iran’s per­ceived back­slid­ing has been per­sis­tent. Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Philip Ham­mond told re­porters Sun­day that there re­mained a num­ber of ar­eas “where we still have ma­jor dif­fer­ences of in­ter­pre­ta­tion in de­tail­ing what was agreed in Lausanne.” On Mon­day, U. S. off icials in Vi­enna and Washington told re­porters that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion won’t ac­cept a deal in­con­sis­tent with the agree­ment in Lausanne.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s view is that if the Ira­ni­ans refuse to ac­cept an agree­ment based on the terms set in April, “then there won’t be an agree­ment,” said White House Press Sec­re­tary Josh Earnest.

Ira­ni­ans have been fum­ing over these in­sin­u­a­tions. The hard- line news­pa­per Kayhan on Mon­day said the Western media were un­fairly ac­cus­ing Iran’s supreme leader of try­ing to evade past com­mit­ments.

“They are play­ing the blame game,” the news­pa­per said.

Khamenei said last week that Iran would not al­low in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors ac­cess to mil­i­tary bases to mon­i­tor the coun­try’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties and would not per­mit in­ter­views of Ira­nian sci­en­tists.

But the Ira­ni­ans say the United States is the one try­ing to change com­mit­ments it made in April. Ac­cord­ing to them, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to take back an agree­ment to al­low Iran to keep 1,000 cen­trifuges in its bomb- re­sis­tant un­der­ground site at For­dow and to op­er­ate about one- third of those ma­chines for non­nu­clear re­search.

Nader Karimi Juni, an in­de­pen­dent an­a­lyst in Iran, said in an in­ter­view that a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of cen­trifuges at For­dow would be “ab­surd.... It would not be wor­thy at all.”

A se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial in Vi­enna de­nied the charge, say­ing U. S. of­fi­cials were hold­ing to the agree­ment on For­dow reached in April.

U. S. of­fi­cials have been gen­er­ally op­ti­mistic in re­cent weeks, with some peg­ging the chance of com­plet­ing a deal at 60% or even higher. But the se­nior of­fi­cial was cau­tious, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of­fi­cials are not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the ne­go­ti­a­tions by name.

“We still do not know whether we will be able to get there,” the of­fi­cial said.

The pace of high- level talks, which has been in­tense, ap­peared to slow some­what Mon­day as Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif re­turned to Tehran for con­sul­ta­tions. Ira­nian and U. S. of­fi­cials in­sisted that was not a sign of trou­ble.

Zarif is ex­pected to re­turn to the talks Tues­day with Ali Ak­bar Salehi, head of Iran’s nu­clear or­ga­ni­za­tion, and Hos­sein Ferey­doun, who is a brother and ad­vi­sor to Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani. Salehi has been un­der med­i­cal treat­ment in re­cent months, which has slowed some tech­ni­cal work in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, of­fi­cials say.

U. S. of­fi­cials dis­puted Ira­nian news re­ports that Obama sent a let­ter to top Ira­nian of­fi­cials through Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider Abadi.

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