Iran’s Revolutionary Guards “are preparing for war” in the event that negotiations to turn Thursday’s framework nuclear agreement into a binding deal by June 30 collapse, an Israeli TV report said Sunday night, citing Arab intelligence agencies.
The Israeli Channel 10 report said Arab intelligence agencies have warned “France, the UK and the US” that the Revolutionary Guards fear Iran could face a military strike should the talks break down, and that the Guards are ready to close the Strait of Hormuz and take other unspecified measures. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the US was working as recently as January on improving its biggest bunker buster bombs in case they were needed for strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Sunday Israeli TV report highlighted the major discrepancies that have emerged between the US and Iran since the framework agreement was announced on Thursday, raising the concern that the non-binding understandings reached to date will fall apart and the negotiations collapse.
A little over a month ago, the Revolutionary Guards held large-scale naval and air defense drills near the Strait of Hormuz — a strategic Gulf waterway, through which one fifth of the world’s oil passes — in which dozens of speedboats swarmed a replica of a US aircraft carrier. State TV showed footage of missiles fired from the coast and fast boats striking the mock US aircraft carrier. The late February drill also included shooting down a drone and planting undersea mines.
The Guards announced they had test-fired a “new strategic weapon” during the drill, saying the system would play a key role in any future battle against the United States.
The White House said on Friday it was “confident” that it could get the deal “in place” by June 30. But key differences have emerged between the sides on what was agreed to date, and Iranian leaders warned over the weekend that they will resume higher-level uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity if they deem that the world powers are not keeping to what they consider the terms of the agreement.
Iran “will be able to return” its nuclear program to the same level if the other side fails to honor the deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani highlighted one of the central areas of disagreement Sunday — the timing and scale of sanctions relief. While the US has made clear that economic sanctions will be lifted in phases, an official Iranian foreign ministry fact sheet provides for the immediate lifting of all sanctions as soon as a final agreement is signed. “During the negotiations, we have always planned for the termination of the economic, financial and banking sanctions and we have never negotiated on their suspension, otherwise, no understanding would be made,” Rouhani said on Sunday. “We will have a difficult path ahead in the stage of drafting the final deal,” Rouhani noted.
Sunday’s Israeli TV report also claimed that Saudi Arabia was furious with the P5+1 negotiators over aspects of the framework deal, notably clauses relating to inspection of Iranian facilities. The failure to ensure “anytime, anyplace” inspection constitutes a central flaw in potential supervision of Iranian activities, Saudi diplomats were reported to be complaining.
Ehud Ya’ari, Middle East analyst for Israel’s Channel 2 News and an international fellow at the Washington Institute think tank, said the six discrepancies represent “very serious gaps” at the heart of the framework accord. They relate to issues as basic as when sanctions will be lifted, and how long restrictions on uranium enrichment will remain in place.
Referring to Thursday’s American-issued “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” on the one hand, and the “fact sheet” issued Friday by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, on the other, Ya’ari noted that no deal was actually signed on Thursday, and that the leaders’ statements and the competing fact sheets were thus critical to understanding what had been agreed.
He cited gulfs on issues including the timing and extent of sanctions relief, enrichment restrictions, ongoing research on advanced centrifuges, inspections, the fate of Iran’s stockpile of lower-enriched uranium, and the possible military dimensions of the Iranian program.