Obama: Unclear if deal on Iran's nuclear program is near

Sources in Jerusalem say that though Israel voiced opposition to current outline of nuclear deal, Iran likely to sign soon. Obama says unclear whether deal to be achieved this week or next

Against the backdrop of Israel's attempts to convince the international community that the current outline of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is bad, Jerusalem sources have already conceded that at the end of the day there will be an agreement. Even if it takes a few more days, Iran will eventually sign an agreement with the P5+1, sources noted.


US President Barack Obama nonethless injected a note of caution on Tuesday, telling a Wall Street Journal forum: "We don't know if we'll be able to close a deal with Iran this week or next week."


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Arguing that a proposed agreement should be accepted by skeptical US allies like Israel, Obama said an agreement with Iran now would buy some time to see if the world would be able to say Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.


He said the proposed deal would permit a modest lifting of economic sanctions on Tehran, allowing a small portion of Iranian assets to be unfrozen. 


Following French President Francois Hollande's visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to fly Wednesday to Moscow, where he is expected to try to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to attempt to delay and weaken the potential nuclear accord.


In Israel, it is clear that Russia will not block the agreement, but according to sources, there is great weight on nurturing Netanyahu's relations with the Russian president.


Jerusalem is nonetheless pleased that the message that the likely agreement is wrong has been reiterated.


Hollande promised in his visit that France would oppose a nuclear-armed Iran at all costs. At the moment, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is not planning to leave to Geneva, but political ranks in Jerusalem are certain that if an agreement is signed, the French will join in, and that it is the Americans who are leading the way to form an accord.  


Monday, political spokespeople in Israel made it clear that they lost the current round on the agreement, but congratulated Israel's success to make its opinion known on the international stage towards a final agreement.


Obama appeals to lawmakers on Iran sanctions

US President Barack Obama warned lawmakers on Tuesday that Iran would make progress in its ability to build a nuclear weapon if there is no diplomatic deal to halt or roll back its nuclear program and urged Congress to hold off on tightening sanctions against Tehran while talks continue.


"The president underscored that in the absence of a first step, Iran will continue to make progress on its nuclear program by increasing its enrichment capacity, continuing to grow its stockpile of enriched uranium, installing advanced centrifuges, and making progress on the plutonium track," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a briefing. 


The White House believes a "modest" and reversible set of measures to ease Iran's economic pain is needed as a show of faith that Washington is serious about a final deal and also to shield Iranian negotiators from pressure from hardliners in Iran.


But US officials insist that the core architecture of the sanctions regime will remain in place until a final deal is concluded to ensure that Iran is unable to build a nuclear bomb.


Nuclear deal's main issues 

Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have met with the Iranians three times since September, when foreign ministers from the six powers and Iran announced a renewal of negotiations aimed at ending the dispute with Tehran. The negotiations are being coordinated by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.


Two rounds of negotiations in Geneva in October and November failed to produce a deal, although diplomats involved said they were close to securing an interim agreement at the round of talks earlier this month.


The previous round of talks in Geneva (Photo: AP)
The previous round of talks in Geneva (Photo: AP)


The goal of the talks in Geneva from Wednesday to Friday is to finalize an interim deal to allow time for the powers to negotiate a permanent agreement with Iran that would end the decade-long standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions and provide assurances to the six powers that its atomic program would not produce bombs. 


The latest report on Iran by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tehran had slowed the expansion of its enrichment program to a virtual halt. Western powers want Iran to go further. In the initial phase of the deal, which the US and European delegations say would last around half a year, Iran would be asked to do the following:


  • Stop producing uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a relatively short technical step away from weapons-grade material;


  • Convert all of its existing stocks of about 200 kg (440 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium to an oxide form, which would create an extra step for Iran if it wanted to reconvert it back into a form usable in weapons, or "downblend" it by mixing with lower enriched uranium to reduce the overall enrichment level (Iran already converts some of its 20 percent uranium to oxide);


  • Possibly ship some uranium out of the country;


  • Possibly produce less 3.5 percent enriched uranium by using fewer nuclear centrifuges. That would help reduce the overall amount of enriched uranium that Iran is producing;


  • Commit to permitting more IAEA inspections. The IAEA would play a key role in monitoring any deal;


  • Not allow the Arak research reactor to go into operation. At the most recent meeting in Geneva, France demanded that construction of the reactor, which will be capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium if it goes on line, be halted. Washington has also expressed concerns about Arak, saying they must be addressed. Western diplomats say there is agreement among all six powers about what is expected from Iran in the case of Arak, although they declined to say precisely what their demands were regarding the reactor under construction.


A diplomat close to the IAEA said recently that Iran had virtually frozen construction of Arak.


Obama said on Thursday the proposed deal would buy additional months in terms of Iran's capacity to break out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime and produce weapons, if it chose to do so.


But Olli Heinonen, a nuclear expert at Harvard University and former chief inspector at the IAEA, questioned Obama's suggestion that the timeline for Iran's ability to produce a nuclear bomb would be pushed back months. With many centrifuges spinning in Iran, a weapons capability would inevitably remain.


Yitzhak Benhorin, news agencies contributed to this report 



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פרסום ראשון: 11.19.13, 22:58
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