Montreux, Switzerland: Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told Al-Monitor that “the maximum” the plenary session of the Geneva II conference on Syria can achieve here January 22 is for the “international community and the parties to express their support for a political resolution to this conflict.”
Fahmy, who served as Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999-2008, spoke to Al-Monitor’s Andrew Parasiliti and Laura Rozen on Tuesday night at his hotel in Montreaux on the eve of the international conference.
Fahmy expanded on his ideas for a political process that leads to a “new Syria which should be open, inclusive to all of its different affiliations in Syria, and that responds to the aspirations of the Syrian people.”
“Who stays how long, when, and who leaves, when, that is for the Syrians to decide,” Fahmy said.
Asked whether discussions of Syria should address the rise of terrorism in Syria and elsewhere in the region, Fahmy said that “the issue of terrorism–violence by any side, by the way, not only by one side–is obviously going to be in the mix. But, as part of the discussion on creating a new Syria, not in place of the discussion, on creating a new Syria.”
Fahmy, whose father also served as foreign minister of Egypt, from 1973-1977, supported confidence building measures such as localized cease fires, prisoner exchanges, and humanitarian corridors. But he warned the conference should not be solely focused on either such humanitarian, confidence -building steps, or counterterrorism, but on launching a process towards a political transition as well.
“We offered the Russians and the Americans starting a month ago, first the Russians and then the Americans, a list of confidence building measures (CBMs), including partial cease-fires, exchange of detainees, different kinds of detainees, because there are some purely civilian detainees, a lot of different things,” Fahmy said.
“I actually would recommend highly that, as they start the political process of building this new Syria, they should in parallel with that, always continue to try to deal with, how can we facilitate the situation on the ground, how can you reduce the suffering,” he added
That will create a different confidence level, but it shouldn’t become a confidence building conference, but if you ignore it, how can you simply negotiate for the next 6 months, and people are getting killed mindlessly, and you assume that you have all the time in the world.”
Syria’s main internal political opposition has rejected a renewed offer by the Syrian National Coalition (SOC) to join its delegation at the Geneva II talks.
The Coalition is currently in the process of forming its delegation after it accepted participation for Geneva II as a result of the UN withdrawing its invitation to Iran.
The SOC reserved two places out of a 15 person delegation for the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), an internal umbrella organization comprised of various leftist and nationalist opposition parties.
But NCC senior official Haytham al-Manna has reiterated his organization’s refusal to participate in Geneva II. Continue reading →
The United Nations on Monday announced that it was formally sending out invitations to a long-delayed Syria peace conference to be convened in Switzerland starting January 22.
To date, there has been no decision on whether Iran should be invited, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said Monday, adding that the invite list had been determined at a meeting between US, Russian and UN officials December 20th.
“The Secretary-General is in favor of inviting Iran, but discussions between the initiating States have not produced final results yet,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet next week (January 13) to decide if Iran should be invited to attend, the State Department and UN said.
Kerry said Sunday, as the US has previously, that Iran could come to the Syria peace conference if it formally endorsed the Geneva 1 communique which calls for the formation of a transition body that has full executive authority. But short of that, Kerry suggested that he and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, are more focused on trying to negotiate a nuclear deal.
“Iran could participate very easily if they would simply accept publicly the Geneva I premise on which Geneva II is based,” Kerry told journalists at a press conference in Jerusalem Sunday (January 5). “That has been the premise of organizing this. …We are going to implement Geneva I, which calls for a transition government by mutual consent with full executive authority; and if Iran doesn’t support that, it’s very difficult to see how they’re going to be ‘a ministerial partner’ in the process.”
“Everybody is happy to have Iran be helpful,” Kerry said. “But we have a huge piece of business on the table with Iran right now to complete the task of the implementation language and get moving with respect to the negotiations on their own nuclear program.”
International talks will convene in Montreux, Switzerland January 22, the UN statement said. Then talks for the Syrian participants, facilitated by UN/Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, will move to the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva starting January 24th.
“The Secretary-General views the conference as a unique opportunity for ending the violence and ensuring that peace can be restored,” the UN statement said “At the core of this effort is the establishment of a transitional governing body based on mutual consent.”
(Photo: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN/Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. File photo: Reuters)
The US National Security Council released this text of the Joint Plan of Action on the nuclear agreement signed by six world powers and Iran in Geneva, November 24, 2013.
Full text below, as sent by the NSC below:
Joint Plan of Action
The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons. This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures and result in a final step for a period to be agreed upon and the resolution of concerns. This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the programme. This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This comprehensive solution would involve a reciprocal, step-bystep process, and would produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme.
There would be additional steps in between the initial measures and the final step, including, among other things, addressing the UN Security Council resolutions, with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the UN Security Council’s consideration of this matter. The E3+3 and Iran will be responsible for conclusion and implementation of mutual near-term measures and the comprehensive solution in good faith. A Joint Commission of E3/EU+3 and Iran will be established to monitor the implementation of the near-term measures and address issues that may arise, with the IAEA responsible for verification of nuclear-related measures. The Joint Commission will work with the IAEA to facilitate resolution of past and present issues of concern. Continue reading →
Geneva__ Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said his team will draft the text of a framework agreement with representatives of six world powers, the P5+1, on Friday as negotiations seemed to gather such pace that there was talk that an agreement could even be signed on Friday or Saturday. Amid signs of rapid progress, US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva Friday to join the talks, a US official said.
“Secretary Kerry will travel to Geneva, Switzerland on Friday at the invitation of EU High Representative Ashton in an effort to help narrow differences in negotiations,” a senior State Department official told Al-Monitor late Thursday.
“We are talking about a framework agreement that includes three steps: objectives, end game, and a first step,” Zarif told Al-Monitor in an interview Thursday, one of a series he gave in his Geneva hotel at the conclusion of the first day of a new round of nuclear talks that were stunning for their sense of momentum after years of no progress.
“If there is political will, it is not so difficult,” Zarif said. “We are hopeful we can do it. My preference is to be able to move forward quickly.”
“We have to see,” he said. “It’s too early to judge.”
Zarif said significant progress on the outlines of a framework deal had been made at meetings over the past month, including at technical talks in Vienna last week. “In the course of the past three weeks…the ingredients of each step have been more clearly defined,” Zarif said.
“Maybe we are sill at the recipe stage,” he said, regarding what reciprocal steps the six powers might offer Iran in exchange for Iranian steps to restrain its nuclear program in the first phase of an envisioned two-step deal. “We know the ingredients, and the right amount of each ingredient in the recipe.”
On Thursday, Zarif had breakfast with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, then headed the Iranian delegation at a brisk, 45-minute plenary meeting with diplomats from the P5+1. Then the Iranian team, headed by Zarif’s deputy Abbas Araghchi, proceeded to hold four, one-hour meetings, first with three European powers, then with the Russians, then with the U.S. team, led by Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and then with the Chinese.
“We had a good plenary,” in which all the delegations expressed the desire “to find common ground in order to move forward,” Zarif said. “Then we had rather long bilateral discussions.”
Next comes “starting serious draft writing,” Zarif said. “We know the challenge: just putting on paper all these discussions…We will already have made good progress. Whether it will be enough to sign a joint communique in the afternoon, it all depends on how much progress” is made Friday.
Asked if the sense of momentum towards a framework deal after years of little or no progress was an illusion, Zarif said he didn’t think so, but cautioned there were still many potential obstacles.
“I think we’re on the right track,” he said. “It’s a very difficult stage we are in–trying to put …that which was said [sometimes] informally [in meetings] on paper, to have consensus.”
“We should not prejudge the outcome,” Zarif said. “The general trend is positive.”
An hour or so after Zarif spoke Thursday, lead US negotiator Wendy Sherman, returning to the diplomats’ Geneva hotel, had an impromptu tete a tete with Iranian deputy foreign minister Araghchi, after encountering him in front of the elevator. The two diplomats spoke for a few minutes in a hallway off the lobby, before Sherrman went up.
Araghchi earlier told Al-Monitor in a brief interview that his team’s one hour meeting with Sherman and the US negotiating team Thursday was “very useful and productive.”
A U.S. official, speaking not for attribution Thursday, told Al-Monitor that from the U.S. perspective, the talks made real headway in the afternoon meetings.
(Top Photo: Lead US Iran negotiator, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, arrives for Iran nuclear talks at the United Nations in Geneva Thursday November 7, 2013, accompanied by her deputy and veteran State Department arms control advisor James Timbie. Credit: Derrick Bridiers, US Mission in Geneva Flickr account. Bottom photo: US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman talks with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi at the Geneva Intercontinental Hotel after an impromptu meeting in front of the elevators Thursday evening November 7, 2013, as negotiations towards a framework deal seemed to be making headway. By ISNA.)
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.
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.)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House Monday for a meeting and working lunch with President Obama and Vice President Biden, amid intensifying US-Iran diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute.
“We have to test diplomacy” with Iran, Obama said in remarks with Netanyahu at the White House Monday. “We, in good faith, will approach that. They will not be easy.”
“The Prime Minister and I agree that it is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.
Netanyahu said he appreciated President Obama’s assurance that Iran’s words “have to be matched by real actions,” and urged that sanctions pressure not be relieved until there would be verifiable progress toward dismantling Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu’s White House meetings come ahead of his speech to the United Nations Tuesday, in which he vowed to deliver “facts” and straight talk to counter what he called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “smile campaign” in New York last week.
The Israeli leader’s first visit to Washington in 17 months comes as a new CNN/ORS poll shows that an overwhelming number of Americans–76% –back direct US-Iran negotiations to see if a diplomatic resolution can be found to address concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The poll, conducted September 27-29, 2013, showed that large majorities of both parties–87% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans—favor the diplomatic outreach, while only one in five–21%–oppose it.
It also comes as former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) intelligence chief Amos Yadlin urged Netanyahu to face facts of his own, and recognize that even an imperfect Iran nuclear agreement is better than the status quo.
“Iran may well reject the Prime Minister’s demands (zero enrichment, removal of all the enriched material from Iran, the suspension of activity at the underground facility in Fordow and the reactor at Arak),” Yadlin wrote in a memo published Sunday (Sept. 29) by the Israeli think tank he now heads, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) . “Nonetheless it is important to define an agreement that even if containing a certain risk that Iran could break out to military nuclear capability either under or in violation of the deal, still represents a significantly smaller threat than the dangers inherent in the status quo, which is likely leading to an Iranian bomb or to a military move to forestall it.”
“Anyone examining the statements made by the US and Iranian Presidents could justifiably assume that there was prior coordination in the terms used about the principles of an expected agreement,” Yadlin wrote. “On the one hand, Iran’s right to develop sources of nuclear energy, and on the other hand, transparency and verification as well as ‘significant steps’ that have not been specified by either side.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday, said he thought an Iran nuclear deal could be reached quickly, even in less than three to six months, if Iran is seriously prepared to make a reasonable deal.
“If it is a peaceful program, and we can all see that – the whole world sees that – the relationship with Iran can change dramatically for the better and it can change fast,” Kerry said.
“If the United States is ready to recognize Iran’s rights, to respect Iran’s rights and move from that perspective, then we have a real chance,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos Sunday.
Zarif is due to meet negotiators from the P5+1–the US, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–in Geneva October 15-16 to lay out a more detailed proposal for resolving the nuclear issue within a year, beginning with a first step confidence building proposal.
(Top photo: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama meet with their advisors at the White House Monday, by the Israeli embassy. Second photo: Netanyahu shakes hands with President Obama at the White House Monday, by the Associated Press. Cartoon of Netanyahu arriving at the UN amid signs of a party by Haaretz.)
New York__ President Obama spoke by phone with Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Friday, officials from both countries said, another remarkable gesture in a week in which US and Iranian leaders moved tentatively to test opportunities to forge more direct contacts in and out of the public spotlight.
“Just now, I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Obama said in a hastily arranged press conference Friday. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program….While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution.”
The 15-minute phone call–the first between presidents of the two countries since 1979–was initiated by Obama at 2:30pm Friday as Rouhani was wrapping up his four day trip to New York, after the Iranians reached out Friday to express interest in a call, US and Iranian officials said. It came a day after Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also made history, by meeting one on one Thursday for half an hour, on the sidelines of six party nuclear talks.
Obama, in the call, congratulated Rouhani on his election, and urged that the two leaders seize the opportunity for a nuclear deal, a senior US administration official said Friday. A “breakthrough on the nuclear issue could open the door to a [more constructive] relationship between the US and Iran,” the US official summarized.
“The Iranian and US presidents underlined the need for a political will for expediting resolution of West’s standoff with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program,” Alireza Miryusefi, a spokesperson for the Iranian mission to the UN, said in a statement Friday.
“President Rohani and President Obama stressed the necessity for mutual cooperation on different regional issues,” he said.
Some observers, noting that President Obama himself announced the call in a live statement at the White House Friday and the Iranian president's office's tweets on the call, suggested there may have been more substantive information exchanged between the two sides this past week to warrant such unusual displays of enthusiasm from cautious leaders.
The Iranians “came here to do a deal, and whatever they said [Thursday in the Kerry Zarif meeting...] persuaded the White House that this was not just a charm offensive,” Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department policy planning official and an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution Saban Center, said Friday.
“They have a deal outlined,” she said. “Whatever they've communicated must be legitimate and compelling to have drawn out this risk-averse president.”
A Twitter account purporting to be linked to Rouhani's office also described the call–in tweets the White House said they saw and which they said accurately conveyed the tone of the call–though Iranian officials in New York said they do not confirm the account is legitimate.
“In phone convo, President #Rouhani and President @BarackObama expressed their mutual political #will to rapidly solve the #nuclear issue,” the @HassonRouhani account said, and which the White House twitter account (@WhiteHouse) retweeted.
In the call, according to a tweet on Rouhani's Twitter account that was later deleted, Obama expressed his “respect for [Rouhani] and the people of Iran. I'm convinced that relations between Iran and US will greatly affect region. If we can make progress on nuclear file, other issues such as Syria will certainly be positively affected.”
Obama signed off on the call, which was conducted through translators, with a Persian goodbye, after Rouhani wished him farewell in English, the White House said. (Rouhani's Twitter account, in a tweet that was later deleted, said Rouhani told Obama in English, 'Have a Nice Day!' and Obama responded with, 'Thank you. Khodahafez.')
On Tuesday, the Iranians declined a US offer to have an Obama Rouhani encounter or handshake in New York, when both leaders addressed the United Nations General Assembly.
Rouhani and Zarif have both described Obama and Kerry in positive terms this week, and expressed optimism about negotiations to ease tensions between the West and Iran, starting with the nuclear issue.
“The end goal is to ensure the interests of both sides, step by step to build confidence between the two nations,” Rouhani told journalists at a press conference Friday.
(Top photo: Historic phone call in the Oval Office: President Obama talks with Iran President Hassan Rouhani this afternoon. Pete Souza, White House. Second photo, from @HassanRouhani Twitter account: 'After historic phone conversation with @BarackObama, President #Rouhani in plane abt to depart for Tehran.')
New York __ US Secretary of State John Kerry shook hands and met alone with Iran's new top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif for thirty minutes Thursday, in the highest level direct talks between the two countries in decades.
“We had a constructive meeting, and I think all of us were pleased that Foreign Minister Zarif came and made a presentation to us, which was very different in tone and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to possibilities of the future,” Kerry told journalists after the meeting.
“Now it’s up to people to do the hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities could do,” Kerry said.
The historic meeting between the top American and Iranian diplomats, with not even note takers present, took place in a room off to the side of a meeting of foreign ministers from the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, hosted by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. When Zarif arrived, Ashton's deputy Helga Schmidt gave up her seat to him, placing Zarif between Ashton and Kerry. After Zarif made a twenty minute presentation to the group, Kerry leaned over to Zarif and suggested that they might meet privately, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
“We had more than a chat,” Zarif said after the meeting Thursday. “Now we have to match our words with action.”
He said the parties had agreed to try to reach a negotiated settlement on Iran's nuclear program within a year. “We agreed to jump-start the process so that we could move forward with a view to agree, first, on the parameters of the end game, how we want to proceed [regarding] Iran's nuclear program, in a year's time, and also to think about steps, starting with a first step, that should be implemented in order to address the immediate concerns of two sides, and move towards finalizing it hopefully within a year's time,” Zarif said.
“I'm optimistic,” Zarif said, speaking at the end of an event featuring Iranian President Hassan Rouhani convened by the Council on Foreign Relations and Asia Society Thursday. “This was a good beginning. I sense that Secretary Kerry and President Obama want to resolve this.”
Zarif “made a thoughtful presentation, he laid out what Iran's interests were, … and expressed a desire to come to an agreement and have it fully implemented in a year's time,” the senior State Department official said Thursday, stressing again that Zarif proposed both reaching and implementing a nuclear deal within a year.
“He laid out some thoughts that he had, what a process may look like, what elements might be in a first step,” the US official said. “Certainly some important things have happened here today.”
Ashton and Zarif along with political directors from the P5+1 will next meet October 15-16 in Geneva. The new Iranian leaders quickly agreed to a date and venue for the nuclear talks, whereas the former team would spend weeks negotiating over such logistical details, the State Department official said.
“Like the Minister [Zarif], I am very ambitious for what we can do,” Ashton said after the meeting. “But we all know that we have to be very practical in translating political ambition into…effective work on the ground.”
A proposed confidence-building measure presented by the six parties to Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan last February “remains on the table,” Ashton continued. “Either the Iranian government can decide to respond directly to that, or it can put forward its own proposals.” She proposed that Iran shares its ideas before the next meeting in Geneva.
“If the Iranians agreed to establish a US-Iran channel on the margins of the P5+1, it's a good sign,” former top Obama nonproliferation advisor Gary Samore, president of United Against a Nuclear Iran [UANI], told Al-Monitor Thursday.
–Barbara Slavin contributed reporting.
(Photo: European Union. Second photo: Jason DeCrow/AP.)