France: Nuclear deal must guarantee Iran can’t get bomb

French FM unhappy with emerging accord, says it must be sufficiently ‘robust’ to win approval of regional countries, prevent arms race

French Foreign Affairs minister Laurent Fabius at the French National Assembly in Paris, November 28, 2014 (Photo credit: Patrick Kovarick/AFP)
French Foreign Affairs minister Laurent Fabius at the French National Assembly in Paris, November 28, 2014 (Photo credit: Patrick Kovarick/AFP)

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Saturday that Paris is pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran that would ensure Tehran would not be able to build an atomic weapon in the future.

“France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb,” Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Saturday.

The French FM added that “if the accord is not sufficiently solid then regional countries would say it’s not serious enough, so we are also going to get the nuclear weapon, and that would lead to an extremely dangerous nuclear proliferation.”

France has taken a tougher line on an Iran deal almost from the beginning, insisting on significant concessions from Tehran in the framework of an agreement.

In the recent round of talks in Switzerland this weekend, cut short Friday because of the death of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s mother, Fabius reportedly called the French delegation to make sure no more concessions were made, Reuters reported.

French diplomats have been pressing their counterparts not to give in on key elements, such as the easing of sanctions before serious progress is made, and arguing that an upcoming deadline was an “artificial” date, the Wall Street Journal reported. The P5+1, France argues, should be willing to press Tehran for a better deal and wait, if necessary.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was headed to London Saturday to meet with his Europeans counterparts for a briefing on Iran nuclear negotiations

The US’s top diplomat was expected to discuss France’s strong reservations. Paris would like to see only a symbolic easing of punitive measures until an agreement is inked, according to reports.

US President Barack Obama called French President Francois Hollande on Friday to discuss the disagreement between the two allies.

The presidents reaffirmed their commitment to a deal “while noting that Iran must take steps to resolve several remaining issues,” the White House said in a statement.

Talks are set to resume next week, according to Iranian officials, only five days before a March 31 target date for a political framework.

On Friday, Iran and the six world powers met to attempt to iron out their remaining differences over the outline of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

The mooted agreement, due to be finalized by July, is aimed at convincing the world after a standoff now in its 13th year that Iran won’t build nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian program.

The highly complex deal would likely involve Iran reducing in scope its nuclear activities, allowing ultra-tight inspections, exporting nuclear material and limiting development of new nuclear machinery.

In exchange, Iran, which denies wanting nuclear weapons, would be granted staggered relief from the mountain of painful sanctions that have strangled its oil exports and hammered its economy.

Negotiators missed two deadlines last July and November for a deal but the pressures in Washington — where Republicans are teeing up new sanctions legislation — all but rule out a new extension, experts say.

Both Kerry and Zarif on Thursday spoke of “progress” in the talks, but both sides have said that there remain considerable gaps still to bridge.

In earlier indications of a building deal, officials told the AP Thursday that the United States and Iran were drafting elements of a deal that commits Tehran to a 40-percent cut in the number of machines it could use to make an atomic bomb. In return, the Iranians would get quick relief from some crippling economic sanctions and a partial lift of a UN embargo on conventional arms.

Agreement on those details of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program could signal a breakthrough for a larger deal aimed at containing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities.

Obama appealed to Tehran Friday to seize a “historic” opportunity and begin a “brighter future”.

In a Nowruz (Persian New Year) video address, Obama said that a “reasonable nuclear deal… can help open the door to a brighter future for you, the Iranian people.”

“I believe that our nations have a historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully — an opportunity we should not miss,” added Obama.

In an apparent response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was the other side that had to make a decision.

“Iranians have already made their choice: engage with dignity. It’s high time for the US and its allies to chose: pressure or agreement,” Zarif wrote in a message posted on his official Twitter account.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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