American and European officials have assured Israel that there are no plans to ease the sanctions on Iran until it signs a comprehensive agreement to rein in its military nuclear programme.
Next week in Geneva, representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with Germany (P5+1) will meet an Iranian delegation led by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in yet another attempt to agree on a nuclear deal.
There was reportedly a more business-like atmosphere at the previous round of talks in Geneva three weeks ago and in subsequent “expert-level” meetings last week between Iranian officials and P5+1 representatives.
The meeting between Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, on allowing IAEA inspectors greater access to Iran’s nuclear facilities also appeared positive, with Mr Amano describing it as “very useful and constructive”.
However, the message from Washington and the EU to Israel has been that there is still no clear sign that Iran is prepared to make the necessary concessions for a deal that would allow sanctions to be lifted.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel underscored this message last week in an interview with Bloomberg. He listed the American and international sanctions, as well as Israel’s “constant pressure”, as factors that “combined, probably brought the Iranians to where we are today. Whether the Iranians will carry forth on that, we’ll see.”
However, his colleague, State Secretary John Kerry, delivered what was seen as a veiled warning to Israel last week when he said that the US will “not succumb to those fear tactics and forces” that suggest it was wrong to “test” Iran’s true intentions in diplomatic talks.
The difficulty Iran’s leadership has in agreeing to end its enrichment of high-grade uranium reflects in part reflects the deep disagreement between different factions in Tehran over Iran’s overall direction.
The division was evident in a speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday in which he backed President Hassan Rouhani, saying “with God’s permission, we will not be harmed by these negotiations ... if the negotiations reach a conclusion, then all the better, but if they don’t it will mean that the country must stand on its own feet.”
Mr Khamenei assured Iranian skeptics that “no one should consider our negotiators as compromisers. They have a difficult mission and no one must weaken an official who is busy with work.”