WASHINGTON – Talks between the P5+1 to work out “technical details” left undetermined by last month’s interim deal to slow down Iran’s nuclear progress will resume Monday, changing venue from Geneva to Vienna, Austria, the US State Department revealed Friday. But even these new talks will not finalize the interim deal, which though announced in celebratory fashion in Geneva last month, has not yet come into effect.
State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf confirmed that talks will resume for the first time since the deal was struck. But she said there was still no date set for an upper-level meeting that will have to be held before the deal actually takes effect. Only once the deal comes into force will an intended six-month-long slowdown period begin, during which Iran will freeze parts of its rogue nuclear program in return for eased sanctions. During those six months, a permanent accord is supposed to be negotiated.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed the interim deal as a “historic mistake,” and Israel is furious that it allows Iran to continue low-level enrichment of uranium. Israel is also concerned that the sanctions regime, once eased, will collapse altogether, and that Iran will become a nuclear threshold state, capable of swiftly “breaking out” to a bomb at a time of its choosing.
It was unclear whether Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will attend the talks in Vienna, which will most likely include “technical” negotiators who have specific expertise either in nuclear development or in the financial underpinnings of the current sanctions regime.
Sherman, who briefed Arab ambassadors on the Iran talks on Thursday, is scheduled to appear before Congress in the upcoming week as part of the administration’s efforts to make its case for the interim agreement before the unruly legislature.
The Senate will be returning from its Thanksgiving break, and may take up additional Iran sanctions legislation during the brief remainder of the session before the Christmas recess. The Obama administration has slammed senators, Democrat and Republican alike, for threatening additional sanctions which the administrations say will undermine the ongoing talks.
Harf confirmed that in addition to her regular updates before Congress, Sherman also briefed both Israel and ambassadors from the Persian Gulf states about the course of the negotiations.
According to the State Department, the next step on the road to the interim agreement will be a “political directors meeting,” but the date for that meeting has not yet been set. Harf said that she believes that scheduling that meeting will be one of the topics to be discussed during the “technical talks” that start in Vienna on Monday.
Moving the talks from Geneva to Vienna emphasizes the anticipated role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in policing any sort of a formal agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 states. The IAEA itself has expressed concern that its inspectors will not be able to begin the many tasks anticipated for them before the beginning of 2014.
During her Friday press briefing, Harf was asked whether the topic of inflammatory language used by Iranian officials against Israel had been addressed in the course of the negotiations. She said that although the negotiations had not addressed the topic, “we have been very clear publicly that those statements are unacceptable, they’re reprehensible, they’re abhorrent; we don’t, obviously, think they have any place in international discourse.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy’s annual Saban Forum later Friday, reinforced this point. Extending an olive branch toward a US administration that has come under fire for failing to take Israel’s interests into consideration while negotiating with Iran, Liberman said that it was only Secretary of State John Kerry who spoke out against Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent likening of Israel to “rabid dogs” and saying its people should not be considered human — remarks the Iranian leader made hours before the start of the talks in Geneva late last month that produced the interim deal.
Liberman criticized the interim deal as impotent, complaining that “”The centrifuges were spinning before the agreement and they are spinning today,” but added that while “it is impossible to conceal differences between us and America on the Iran deal,” it is also “crucial to cool the atmosphere.”
“It’s unnecessary to discuss disagreements publicly.” Liberman emphasized.