US denies reports of deal on Iran nuclear programme


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of the United States Congress next week to warn against an impending deal on Iran's nuclear programme. At the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Geneva meeting the Iranians, perhaps putting the finishing touches on that very agreement.

While there are still significant gaps between the two sides, the agreement that is taking shape - going by the details that have been leaked to the press - will allow the Iranians to continue using 6,500 centrifuges for low-level uranium enrichment on condition that most of the enriched uranium is later transferred to Russia.

The main differences that reportedly remain are over the length of time during which restrictions should remain on Iran's nuclear activities and the the schedule for the removal of economic sanctions on Iran. The sides are anxious to reach a framework agreement by the end of March.

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu gave a taste of what he intends to say in Washington if the deal is signed. He said it "will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state".

The Obama administration, which has responded angrily to Mr Netanyahu's planned visit, on the invitation of Speaker John Boehner, ramped up its criticism this week. Mr Kerry said during a Congress hearing on Tuesday: "Anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, ‘Well, we don’t like the deal,’ or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet.”

A few hours later, National Security Adviser Susan Rice ratcheted the tension up a notch saying: "The invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks before his elections … has injected some degree of partisanship. It is not only unfortunate but it is also destructive of the fabric of the relationship."

Meanwhile, a confidential report compiled by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which will be responsible for verifying any nuclear agreement, was leaked on Sunday.

According to the report, Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA investigation into research carried out on "possible military dimensions" of its nuclear programme. While Iran has been consistently obstructive of the IAEA investigation, the nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had been complying with the conditions of the interim deal, signed in December 2013 to freeze its nuclear development in return for limited sanctions relief, until an comprehensive agreement is reached.

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