Iran nuclear talks: Unfinished, but alive

15 November 2013 03:53 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The inconclusive negotiations over the weekend on Iran’s nuclear program were disappointing, but two critical points have mostly been ignored. First, diplomacy takes work, and agreements rarely flow seamlessly from beginning to end. Second, if all those inveighing against any deal — namely members of Congress, Israel and Saudi Arabia — see the weekend results as a new opportunity to sabotage it, what is the alternative?

No one has proposed a better path than negotiations, and getting the best deal possible should remain the goal for Iran and the major powers — the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — as they look to another round of talks later this month.

American, European and Iranian negotiators had raised expectations that an interim agreement — one that would temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program, while a longer-term agreement was worked on — could be reached. The 11th-hour arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers at the talks in Geneva added to a sense of a potential breakthrough.

On Monday, what prevented the deal was still in dispute. After Mr. Kerry placed responsibility on Iran for being unprepared to accept a proposed draft agreement, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran said Mr. Kerry’s “conflicting statements” had damaged confidence in a process that all sides had agreed would be conducted in secret. One primary obstacle involves Iran’s insistence that it has a right to enrich uranium (which can be used for nuclear power plants or weapons), something Washington is not ready to concede.

Meanwhile, other reports blamed France for the failure to reach a deal after Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius complained that the proposed agreement was a “fool’s game” just as negotiations were at a critical point. American and French diplomats have since said that France’s area of concern — reportedly involving a heavy water reactor, which can produce plutonium — was easily resolved. Israelis and American lawmakers, however, have happily embraced Mr. Fabius’s outburst in pushing the United States and its allies to take a tougher line against Iran. It would be alarming if his comments seriously impair chances of a deal.

Unfortunately, the inconclusive negotiations have given an opening to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who excoriated the proposed agreement as the “deal of the century” for Iran before it is made public, to generate more hysterical opposition. It would be nice if Iran could be persuaded to completely dismantle its nuclear program, as Mr. Netanyahu has demanded, but that is unlikely to ever happen. The administration of President George W. Bush made similar demands and refused to negotiate seriously and the result was an Iranian program that is more advanced than ever.

The best way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is through a negotiated deal that limits uranium enrichment, curbs the plutonium program and allows for maximum international monitoring. Iran took a useful, if insufficient, step on Monday when it agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency access to certain nuclear sites. The opponents of a deal are energized and determined. The United States and its allies have to be united and smart.

Courtesy: New York Times

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