Iran: Prospects for reaching nuke deal by deadline not good

Top negotiator urges West to abandon ‘illogical excessive demands’ ahead of November 24 target date

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi (YouTube/Press TV/File)
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi (YouTube/Press TV/File)

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Saturday that prospects for reaching a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program by the November 24 deadline were not good, and urged the P5+1 world powers to abandon their “excessive demands.”

“The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are going ahead in a tough path filled with ups and downs and there is no good prospect for the conclusion of the talks by the deadline,” said Araqchi, according to Tasnim news agency. His remarks came in response to statements made Thursday by US undersecretary of state for political affairs Wendy Sherman.

“Undoubtedly, attempting to launch negotiations through media outlets rather than [sitting at the] negotiation table and declaring political demands, once accompanied by illogical excessive demands, will not only help the progress of the talks, but also will make [continuing] the present tough path more difficult or impossible,” the Iranian diplomat said.

On Thursday, Sherman seemed to alternate between skepticism over Iran’s negotiating position and praise for progress made thus far in an address on Thursday.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks to the press in Jerusalem on February 22, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks to the press in Jerusalem on February 22, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)

Speaking at the Center for Security and International Studies, Sherman talked up US willingness to reach a deal with Tehran, while still casting doubts as to whether such a deal could be reached by November 24. Still, she stressed her desire for a successful resolution of the negotiating process, telling the Iranians that the coming month marked their “best chance” and that now was the time to “finish the job.”

Araqchi indicated that Iran would continue to negotiate until the target date.

“We also believe that the existing opportunity is a great chance which may not be available for neither side again. We are certain that if the other side adheres to its declared objective in the negotiations, that is making sure that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, realizing this goal is not that difficult,” said the Iranian official.

In her address, Sherman detailed advances that occurred under the Joint Plan of Action interim agreement reached last year, including Iran halting the expansion of its overall enrichment capacity; capping its stockpile of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride; stopping the production of uranium enriched to 20 percent; agreeing not to make further advances at the Arak heavy water reactor; and opening the door to “unprecedented daily access for international inspectors to the facilities at Natanz and Fordow.”

Significant hurdles remain, however. For the US, they include selling an agreement at home and to its closest regional partners.

“We are aware, of course, that this negotiating process is, shall we say, controversial,” Sherman said .

“Some worry that it will fail. Others seem to fear that it will succeed. Many have questions and doubts,” she said. “The Obama administration has consulted regularly with members of Congress and with our many overseas partners, including Israel and the Gulf states. We have heard a variety of concerns and done our best to answer hard questions.”

The US government has come out of those discussions with a reinforced conviction that diplomacy with Iran is worth the risk, Sherman emphasized.

The technical details of the talks have been closely guarded by the negotiating partners — the US, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran — even if the broad parameters of a potential agreement are clear: Iran would have to cut back on its number of centrifuges enriching uranium and redesign a planned heavy water reactor so it doesn’t produce plutonium. Both materials can be used in nuclear warheads. In exchange, the US in particular would have to roll back some of the financial, trade and oil sanctions that significantly cut off Iran from global markets.

Congress could prove an obstacle in this regard, given threats by Democrats and Republicans to institute new sanctions if the deal isn’t to their liking.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) welcomes the arrival of Minister of Defense of Israel Moshe Ya'alon (R) during an honor cordon October 21, 2014 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (left) welcomes the arrival of Minister of Defense of Israel Moshe Ya’alon (right) during an honor cordon at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, October 21, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Israeli officials — notably including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — have publicly stated repeatedly that Iran’s military nuclear capabilities must be dismantled, and have expressed a lack of confidence in the current negotiations’ ability to achieve this goal. Israel fears Western compromises which would remove sanctions from Tehran while not providing enough security to the Jewish state.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday during a visit to Washington that “sometimes it is better that there is no deal rather than a bad deal.”

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