By Gil Elan
One picture published over the weekend by AP says it all: a gaunt, stressed and worried-looking Secretary of State John Kerry walking in the streets of Geneva next to a rested, smiling and confident Iranian foreign minister Zavad Zarif.
While the U.S. negotiators tried to spin the weekend talks about stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as having been somewhat productive, citing “long-awaited progress on some elements that would go into a comprehensive deal,” they also described the discussions as a “moving target.”
Ynetnews reported Monday that according to several news agencies familiar with the negotiations: “The United States and Iran are working on a two-phase deal that clamps down on Tehran’s nuclear program for at least a decade before providing it leeway over the remainder of the agreement to slowly ramp up activities that could be used to make weapons.”
The U.S. initially sought restrictions lasting for up to 20 years; Iran had pushed for less than 10.
The idea presented in the current talks would be to reward Iran for “good behavior” by gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program.
Iran could be allowed to operate significantly more centrifuges than the U.S. administration first demanded. Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise. Iran is currently still running at least 10,000 centrifuges, at full capacity, despite having committed to cut the number down in the November 2013 agreement with the P5+1 group. And these are the ones we know about. There are reports of secret enrichment facilities built over the past few years.
And still unclear, from all the reports so far, is the status of Iran’s underground enrichment facility at Fordo and heavy water reactor at Arak, which potentially could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year.
In other words, the U.S. has officially now conceded Iran having nuclear weapons in 10 years!
But that was not enough for the Iranians. Sensing a desperate urgency by the U.S. negotiators to close a deal at any cost, Zarif told Iran’s Fars news agency: “We had serious talks with the Americans in the past three days … But still there is a long way to reach a final agreement.”
U.S. negotiators hope to meet a self-imposed March 31 deadline for an initial political deal. The approaching deadline has caused a rift between the U.S. and Israel, which calls the talks “dangerous” and “astonishing.” A “U.S. official” has accused Israel of distorting Washington’s position in the talks.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday: “The agreement with Iran as it is coming together now is a great danger to Western world peace and a threat to Israel’s security.”
Ya’alon said the deal would permit Iran to be freed from current economic sanctions while continuing to enrich uranium. He called Iran “the most dangerous regime” and a central factor behind instability in the Middle East.
The talks will continue March 3, at a location yet to be determined. Iran is playing for time, feeling that it will get even more concessions because the U.S. needs a foreign policy “achievement.”
But the accord will have to receive some sort of acceptance from the U.S. Congress to be fully implemented. Given the hostility to any Iranian enrichment from most Republican and many Democratic lawmakers, which hopefully will increase after Bibi’s speech, however it is delivered, this may not happen.
Kerry’s picture says it all — Iran already knows it has probably won the diplomatic battle. But the war is far from over. Israel is still very much in play…
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: email@example.com. Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org. DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.