Diplomats from P5+1 meet in Geneva, Kerry flies home

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Geneva__ Diplomats from six world powers met here in Geneva Monday ahead of two days nuclear talks with Iran.

Political directors from the P5+1–the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany– “met for over an hour this afternoon,” an official familiar with the talks said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived here late Monday afternoon accompanied by members of his negotiating team as well as some 40 Iranian journalists. He is due to have dinner with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at 7:30pm local time at the residence of Iran’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

Meantime, US Secretary of State John Kerry was flying back to Washington from London Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Iranian media reported disappointment on the Iranian side that Kerry and other foreign ministers were not attending the talks.

Kerry: Opportunity for Iran diplomacy cracking open

hile aides say Secretary of State John Kerry has no plans to attend Iran nuclear talks with six world powers due to get underway in Geneva Tuesday, there are hints Kerry may decide to do so on his own, or to pursue a follow up meeting with his Iranian counterpart soon.

“Yes, there is a chance, but no decision has been made and, for now, it is not happening,” one US official, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Sunday. “His aides are advising no, but Kerry often makes these types of calls on his own.”

Kerry “has no plans” to come to Geneva, a State Department official said Sunday.

Kerry met with chief international negotiator, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in London Sunday, to discuss the upcoming Iran talks, Syria, and Middle East peace, the State Department said. He is scheduled to travel next to Paris.

“Right now, the window for diplomacy is cracking open,” Kerry said in videotaped remarks to a national conference of the American Israel Public Affairs (AIPAC) meeting in California Sunday. “But I want you to know that our eyes are open too.”

“I hope that we can agree on a road map for arriving at an agreement by Wednesday,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also heads lran's nuclear negotiating team, wrote on his Facebook page Sunday. “But even if the other side shows goodwill, agreeing on details and implementation would require another cabinet level meeting.”

The U.S. team to the Geneva Iran talks is led by Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and imcludes her top deputy and veteran nonproliferation expert Jim Timbie, State Department Iran sanctions principal deputy Richard Nephew, National Security Staff senior director for Persian Gulf Affairs Puneet Talwar, Treasury sanctions lawyer Adam Szubin, State Department Iran spokesman Alan Eyre, and State Department deputy spokesman Marie Harf, the State Department said.

Update: Secretary of State John Kerry is flying back to Washington from London Monday, his spokespeople said

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Will Iran go big in Geneva?

img class=”alignnone” alt=”” src=”http://www.recorder.com/csp/mediapool/sites/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls?STREAMOID=bdH4IVCTORK9hP0yivIAys$daE2N3K4ZzOUsqbU5sYvRaI2fZFCyu3NwSYv15WjAWCsjLu883Ygn4B49Lvm9bPe2QeMKQdVeZmXF$9l$4uCZ8QDXhaHEp3rvzXRJFdy0KqPHLoMevcTLo3h8xh70Y6N_U_CryOsw6FTOdKL_jpQ-&CONTENTTYPE=image/jpeg” width=”561″ height=”351″ />Some current and former western diplomats said Friday that they think Iran plans to put a broad and substantive offer on the table at nuclear talks with six world powers in Geneva next week, even as Iran’s top diplomat took to Twitter Friday to urge patience amid mounting speculation about what Iran may propose.

“We will present our views, as agreed, in Geneva, not before,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter Friday. “No Rush, No Speculations Please (of course if you can help it!!!)”

There's some expectation that Iran could present a broader, “more coherent and better articulated” proposal than previously, a western diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor Friday.

Among the elements it is thought that Iran's proposed package could include, he said: suspending 20% uranium enrichment, and reducing its 20% stockpile, probably by continuing to convert it to oxide; limiting the number of centrifuges enriching, if not installed. It may offer to freeze the situation at the Fordo enrichment facility, built inside a fortified bunker, or switch cascades currently enriching to 20% to 3.5% there. It may also express willingness to accept more safeguards and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, Iran is expected to ask for substantial sanctions relief, including finance and oil-related sanctions.

“My understanding is that Javad Zarif will…lay out a plan that will basically say, ‘Look, we want to do what is necessary, beginning now and ending in a year’s time, to assure everybody here that we don’t want… a nuclear weapon,’” William Luers, a former veteran US diplomat who directs The Iran Project, told journalists on a press call Friday.

“The impression I get from talking to both Zarif and [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani is that they have made a decision that they want to open up their economy to the world again, and are prepared to do substantial things to make that happen,” Luers said. “And they will say, ‘We want to know what you will do in terms of sanctions relief.’”

As near term steps, Luers said he thought Zariif would suggest that Iran is “prepared to either cease or reduce substantially” 20% enrichment, “do something serious about Fordo, short of locking it up,” and to agree to not bring on-line new centrifuges. He also anticipated Iran would offer to provide more access to the IAEA, as well as to take some unspecified action on the Arak heavy water reactor that Israel fears could give Iran a second route to acquire fissile material that could be used in a nuclear weapon.

Former US Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, however, urged lowering expectations about what Iran brings to Geneva, given his past experience, which includes negotiating with the Iranians in Geneva in 2001 and in Iraq in 2007.

“While I would like to think that the P5+1 talks with Iran are going to result in a concrete Iranian proposal on what they are prepared to do, but given the history of these talks, and multilateral diplomatic efforts generally, I am not overly optimistic,” Crocker said on the press call Friday.

Crocker said he thinks it’s more likely that Iranian negotiators in Geneva will say–much as they did in New York last month–that “Iran does not seek a nuclear weapons program. That it insists on its right to a peaceful nuclear energy program under international oversight. And that it insists on its right to enrichment at levels that are internationally acceptable,” he said.

“If we get much beyond that, I will be pleasantly surprised,” Crocker said.

He said he thought more progress could be made in direct talks between Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry than in the seven-nation talks between the P5+1 and Iran.

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Negotiators beat back disinfo ahead of Iran nuclear talks


Iran has not yet shared with Brussels a preview of the nuclear proposal it is expected to present to six world powers in Geneva next week, a European Union official tells Al-Monitor.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday that sanctions may soon be lifted on Iran after the US and Iran have secretly made progress towards a nuclear deal. The report by the channel’s Middle East affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari cited in part a Wall Street Journal report describing curbs in Iran’s nuclear work that Iran may propose.

“There is ‘more than a likelihood’ that the accelerated diplomatic contacts will produce a deal,” the Times of Israel cited the Israel Channel 2 TV report, “adding that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ‘will come in at a certain stage… and play an important role’” but “for now, though, it is the US and Iran that are doing the negotiating.”

But western officials tell Al-Monitor they have not received the proposal. Some US Iran watchers suggested some of the reports may be pushed by sources who may want to set expectations for the Iranian proposal unrealistically high and thus make whatever Iran presents next week look wanting.

While Iranian Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif stayed in New York last week for meetings with Iran experts and others, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), sources who met with him said he did not go into such detail about the proposal he is expected to present at the meeting with the P5+1 in Geneva October 15-16.

Asked if the Iranians had forwarded ideas or the proposal yet to Brussels, a spokesman for lead European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Al-Monitor Wednesday, “No.”

US nonproliferation experts who have been consulting with the US administration this week said it was their understanding that the US has also not yet received any concrete details on what the Iranians may propose.

“The P5+1 will first want to hear what Iran brings to the table,” a former senior U.S. official who worked on the issue, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor. “It will not be in a position to offer a road map because such a roadmap takes time to develop and reach consensus on among the various players.”

Meantime, Iranian negotiators were also contending with hardline, would-be spoilers at home. Zarif wrote on his Facebook page that he had had to go to the hospital wiih stress-induced severe back pain Tuesday after hardline Kayhan newspaper falsely reported that he had told Iranian MPs that the Supreme Leader had disapproved of his having met with Secretary of State John Kerry in New York.

“After seeing the headline of a newspaper, I got extreme back and feet pain.” Zarif wrote on Facebook, Arash Karami wrote at Iran Pulse, adding: “He then wrote that after four or five hours, seeing that the pain had not subsided, he checked himself into a hospital.”

(Photo: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif looks at his phone during a cabinet meeting Wednesday October 8, posted to Twitter by Negar Mortazavi.)

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Indyk staffs up to intensify Israeli Palestinian peace push


US Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk is expanding his team as the U.S. prepares to intensify its role facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“We've agreed that those talks should now be intensified and American involvement should be increased to facilitate these discussions,” Indyk told the J Street conference last week. (Sept. 30). “Our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim agreement.”

To that end, he has grown his office's ranks.

Julie Sawyer, a career civil service officer who most recently served as Persian Gulf director on the National Security Staff, has joined Indyk’s team as his traveling senior aide. Sawyer previously served as a Middle East advisor to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.

Sawyer joins a team that already includes deputy envoy and longtime Kerry confidante Frank Lowenstein. Ilan Goldenberg, a former Middle East advisor at the Pentagon and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff, has joined the office as chief of staff.

USAID deputy assistant Middle East administrator Hady Amr has joined the envoy’s team as an economics advisor.

Michael Yaffe, a career foreign service officer specializing in Middle East and arms control issues, has joined the envoy’s office to do international outreach with organizations such as the Arab League and the Quartet. Yaffe came to the envoy's office—next to the State Department’s Near East Affairs bureau—after serving as a professor and dean at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia center for strategic studies.

The Pentagon has seconded an official to work with the team on security issues. David Wallsh, a Fletcher PhD candidate in Middle East and international security studies, joined Indyk's team last week to work on security issues related to the peace process. In addition, retired Marine Corps Gen. Jon Allen, the former Afghanistan and Centcom commander, has been leading a security dialogue with the Israel Defense Forces to help address Israel’s security requirements, Indyk told the J Street conference.

Indyk’s shop is expected to bring on someone to do outreach to the press, think tanks and the Hill, but sources would not yet disclose who that will be.

The growing ranks signal the seriousness of the negotiations effort, and the commitment to it by Secretary Kerry and President Obama, officials say.

“All core issues are on the table,” Indyk told the J Street conference last week. “Our common objective is a final status agreement, not an interim agreement.”

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Sunday at Bar Ilan University, said negotiations were stuck over the Palestinian refusal to date to recognize Israel as a state of the Jewish people and to thereby give up the right of return, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly made reassuring comments in a meeting Monday with some members of the Israeli Knesset.

Relatively little has leaked from the talks to date, which have been conducted with little fanfare or publicity in the region since Kerry formally relaunched talks in Washington in July and named Indyk as envoy.

(Photo of US envoy Martin Indyk addressing the J Street Gala September 30, 2013, by J Street.)

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Iranians, irked by Netanyahu comment, tweet photos of their jeans

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first Persian language interview broadcast into Iran Saturday, appeared to offend many young, educated Iranians with comments that they said revealed how deeply out of touch he is with Iranian society.

While Netanyahu, in the interview with the BBC's Persian TV service, repeated familiar talking points–dismissing the power of Iran's new, more moderate president Hassan Rouhani and arguing Iran should not be allowed to retain a nuclear enrichment capability–it was his assertion that Iranians are not free to wear jeans and listen to western music that set off a social media firestorm.

Iranians inside and outside of the country took to Twitter to mock the assertion, using the hashtags #jeans and #Iranjeans to send the Israeli leader photos of themselves wearing jeans and listening to music on their Apple devices, with messages expressing both humor and offense.

Tehran-based Iranian journalist Sadegh Ghorbani took to Twitter Saturday to offer to send Netanyahu photos of Iranians wearing jeans and listening to western music on their iPhones if, as he said, Israeli spies had not been able to provide that:

Ghorbani subsequently announced on Twitter Sunday that many Iranians were using the #jeans hashtag to protest the Israeli prime minister's distorted understanding of their sartorial choices.

BBC Persian journalist Bahman Kalbasi reported both the Netanyahu interview and the on-air and social media response:

RFE/RL journalist Golnaz Esfandiari also tracked the Iranian social media response to Netanyahu's comments:

An Iranian woman using the handle @miiilik welcomed Netanyahu to her room, with a photo of a few dozen pairs of denim stacked in the center of her closet:

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Top US Iran negotiator: Onus is on Iran to propose nuclear plan

The top US Iran negotiator told a Senate panel Thursday that “the onus is on Iran” to bring a credible and verifiable action plan to the table at nuclear talks in Geneva next month for the US to determine if the new Iranian leadership is serious about a nuclear deal. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also urged Congress to hold off on new Iran sanctions until she and her counterparts hear from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the P5+1 talks in Geneva October 15-16th.

“We will know in the next short period of time whether there is anything serious here or not,” Sherman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.

“The onus is on Iran,” to bring a substantive plan to the Geneva talks, Sherman stressed. “We will not put ideas on the table until we hear from Iran.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif, in a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and other P5+1 foreign ministers in New York last week, said Iran would complete a comprehensive nuclear agreement within a year, Sherman told the committee. But a shorter term confidence building measure is desirable, Sherman said, to put time on the clock and reduce Iran’s nuclear capabilities while that longer negotiation would take place.

Under questioning by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Sherman declined to say whether the U.S. would rule out a final deal with Iran that would permit it to pursue domestic enrichment.

“You know, a negotiation begins with everyone having their maximalist positions,” Sherman said. “We have ours, too, that they have to meet all their obligations under the (Non-Proliferation Treaty) NPT and UN Security Council. They have theirs too. Then you begin a negotiation.”

Asked by Rubio if President Obama would ever agree to a final deal in which Iran would have some domestic enrichment capacity, Sherman responded: “I am not going to negotiate in public, with all due respect,” she said. “I can only repeat what the President of the United States has said.”

The committee chair, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) said Iran’s actions would be critical for determining whether Congress would support future sanctions relief.

“What is important now is what Iran does, not what it says, [we don’t] need more words,” Menendez said. “I would like to see compliance and the suspension of uranium enrichment…I am also serious about relief from sanctions if Iran meets its UN Security Council responsibilities.”

(Photo: FILE U. S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva. Reuters.)

Netanyahu to UN: Keep pressure on Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the United Nations Tuesday to keep up the sanctions pressure on Iran until there would be a verifiable and meaningful agreement that would inhibit Iran from having a rapid nuclear breakout capability.

“Keep up the sanctions,” Netanyahu urged the UN General Assembly as its final speaker on Tuesday. “Lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program.”

“The international community has Iran on the ropes,” Netanyahu said. “If you want to knock out Iran's nuclear weapons program peacefully, don't let up the pressure. Keep it up.”

An Iranian diplomat rebutted Netanyahu's allegations that Iran seeks nuclear weapons, and urged that Israel join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and put its alleged nuclear weapons program under inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We just heard an extremely inflammatory statement by the last speaker in which he made made allegations against the peaceful nuclear activities of my country,” the Iranian diplomat, counsellor Khodadad Seifi, said in a formal response to Netanyahu's speech to the UNGA. “I do not want to dignity such unfounded allegations with an answer other than to categorically reject them all. He tries to mislead this august body about Iran's nuclear program.”

“The most ironic part of his comments was when he tried to be more royal than the king and set standards for Iran's nuclear activities and levels of enrichment,” Seifi continued. “He must know that no one can dictate to Iran what to do or not to do. As a party to the NPT, Iran is fully aware of its rights and it's fully committed to its obligations. .. Israel is the only non NPT Party in the Middle East.”

Full transcript of Netanyahu's remarks to the 68th United Nations General Assembly Tuesday below the jump: Continue reading