Boom and bust-up: Iran nuclear negotiations end without results

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 20, 2014
Ashton with Iran’s  foreign minister Mohammed Zarif in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)

Ashton with Iran’s foreign minister Mohammed Zarif in Vienna (Photo: Getty Images)

A second round of negotiations between the P5+1 group and the Iranian government on Iran’s nuclear programme ended this week without results and accusations flying between Israel, the US and the Islamic Republic.

Despite the upbeat announcements — a spokesperson for the European Union foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, said the talks had been “substantive and useful” — little progress was achieved on the core issues.

Iran still refuses to dismantle key parts of its uranium enrichment process, stop the construction of a new plutonium reactor or discuss curbing its development of long-range missiles.

While the atmosphere in Vienna remained outwardly cordial, back in Tehran, the regime accused the US and its allies of trying to scupper the talks at Israel’s behest.

Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Ravanchi said: “As far as the missiles are concerned, these are related to Iran’s defence capabilities and we cannot allow, under any circumstances, that non-nuclear issues be included in the talks… any linkage of this sort is out of the question and unacceptable.”

American officials have insisted that all aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme must be addressed in the comprehensive agreement which, under the terms of the interim deal, is due to be signed by the beginning of July.

The two sides are to reconvene next month once again in Vienna in attempt to bridge their differences.

Western diplomats have voiced fears in recent days that the ongoing crisis with Russia over the situation in Ukraine will make it much more difficult for the P5+1 group of international powers to co-ordinate a joint position on Iran.

The lack of genuinely substantive progress in the talks with the Iranians underlines Israeli fears that Tehran is seeking to prolong the current situation under the Geneva interim agreement signed
last November. Under the deal, Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment and construction at the Arak heavy-water reactor but relinquished none of its technical capabilities and was allowed to continue producing long-range ballistic missiles — which can carry nuclear warheads.

While the Geneva agreement only allowed for limited sanctions relief, Israel is concerned that the momentum created by the severe sanctions in recent years has now been broken and Western companies are once again flocking to Iran to do business.

Some senior Israeli officials now believe that, despite the repeated promises by President Barack Obama that he would not allow Iran to achieve military nuclear capabilities and “all options are on the table”, the US has effectively accepted Iran’s status as a “nuclear threshold” state.

This view was echoed by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon in a speech at Tel Aviv University on Sunday, in which he warned that the US is “showing weakness” in its foreign policy.

He added that Israel’s conclusion regarding Iran should be that “we have to behave as though we have nobody to look out for us but ourselves”.

Mr Ya’alon’s remarks earned him a stinging response from an unnamed senior American official who accused him of “undermining” the strategic relationship between Israel and the US.

Ha’aretz reported this week that, in a meeting between Knesset members and senior IDF officers, the parliamentarians were told that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr Ya’alon had instructed the military to continue preparing a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations in 2014.

According to the IDF officers, a budget of over NIS 10bn has been allocated to the operation.

Last updated: 4:45pm, March 20 2014