US sees 2-phase Iran nuclear deal

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Geneva__ The United States and five world powers are looking to reach agreement on the first phase of a two-part nuclear deal with Iran, that would halt the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program while negotiations on a comprehensive final deal take place, a senior US official said here Wednesday.

“The first step understanding would put time on the clock to negotiate a final agreement that addresses all of our concerns,” the senior U.S. administration official, speaking not for attribution, told journalists here Wednesday on the eve of two days of nuclear talks. “It’s crucial we have this phase of this agreement without Iran’s nuclear program marching forward.”

The US official argued forcefully against Congress implementing new sanctions at this time, saying US experts believe new sanctions “would be harmful to…and undermine” the negotiating process. “We all have an obligation not to take that risk.”

“For the first time, Iran appears to be committed to moving this negotiating process forward quickly,” the official added. “That’s a key shift… For the first time, we do not see them using the negotiating process to buy time.”

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in Paris Tuesday, said there was still a lot of work to be done, but saw the potential to at least make meaningful progress at the Geneva talks–the second such round in three weeks.

“I believe it is even possible to reach that agreement this week,” Zarif told France24 Tuesday, adding that If “we don’t make a breakthrough at this round, it’s not a disaster.”

“We hope to make concrete progress in the upcoming round,” Michael Mann, spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said here Wednesday. “The nuclear talks are complex and have entered a serious phase.”

The American official declined to go into specifics on the elements of a prospective phase one agreement, but said it should address levels of enrichment, stockpiles, facilities, verification and monitoring. US officials have said the six will not dismantle the “architecture” of major oil and banking sanctions in the interim step, but presumably in a broader end state deal.

“In response to a first step that halts their program, we are prepared to offer limited, targeted and reversible sanctions relief,” the U.S. official said. “We are not talking about removing the core architecture [of the sanctions regime] in the first step. And if Iran does not live up to its agreement, or a comprehensive deal is not finalized, any economic relief offered can be reversed.”

Any interim deal would likely include Iran suspending 20% enrichment. Other possible elements include halting the installation of more centrifuges, and suspending work towards bringing online the Arak heavy water reactor, in exchange for “targeted and reversible” sanctions relief, including the release of some frozen Iranian hard currency assets held in banks abroad, unconfirmed reports have suggested.

Regarding Iran’s demand that it get recognition of the right to enrich in any end state deal, the US official didn’t rule out a deal that permitted Iran to have domestic enrichment, but said the US doesn’t recognize any country’s inherent right to enrich. President Obama has repeatedly expressed support for Iran having a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program.

The US official wouldn’t say whether she expected a first step agreement to be reached at this round of talks in Geneva Nov. 7-8th, but suggested the outline of the first step of a deal may be within reach.

“I do see the potential outlines of a first step,” the official said. “I do think it can be written on a piece of paper–probably more than one. I hope sooner rather than later. I would like to stop Iran’s program from advancing further.”