Kerry, Zarif to meet on sidelines of nuclear summit

Top US, Iranian diplomats to hold first discussion since framework agreement reached

US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AFP/Brian Snyder, Pool)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif. (AFP/Brian Snyder, Pool)

US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet his Iranian counterpart in New York on Monday, the first time since their marathon talks which sealed the outlines of an emerging nuclear deal.

Kerry will hold talks with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the 2015 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference at the United Nations, a senior State Department official said Sunday.

It would be the first meeting between the top diplomats since the April 2 deal reached in Lausanne, Switzerland setting out the parameters for a historic accord to curtail Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Work on the framework Iran agreement must be completed by June 30.

Kerry, who was to address the conference, was in store for a busy day in New York. He was already scheduled, with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, to meet with Japanese counterparts.

In addition, the senior State Department official said Kerry will hold separate talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The process of fitting together all the interlocking pieces in what will be a fiendishly complex accord is full of potential pitfalls which could wreck the entire process, experts say.

Kerry said in Lausanne where the April 2 understanding was announced that he had “no illusions about the fact that we still have a ways to travel.”

The main problem looks to be the timing of when US and EU economic sanctions related to the nuclear dossier — UN sanctions and those dealing with other areas are separate matters — will be lifted.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that he wanted this to occur “on the first day of the implementation of the deal.”

But Western officials say this will only happen once the UN atomic watchdog has verified that Iran has taken key steps in the agreement such as removing nuclear machinery. Kerry said this would take “probably six months to a year.”

The details on other key areas also still have to be nailed down.

According to a US fact sheet, the deal will include Iran slashing the number of centrifuges — which can make nuclear fuel but also the core of a bomb by “enriching” uranium — to 6,104 from 19,000 at present.

In addition, Washington says, Iran will shrink its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent. Taken together this will extend the “breakout” time needed to make one bomb’s worth of material to at least one year.

Iran has however criticized the fact sheet and a joint statement by Zarif and EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini on April 2 was much less specific, saying only that Iran’s enrichment capacity and stockpile would be “limited.”

Other areas that still have to be cleared up include the details of the IAEA’s expanded inspections role and the future scope of Iran’s research and development of new kinds of nuclear machinery.

“What has been done so far does not guarantee an agreement, nor its contents, nor even that the negotiations will continue to the end,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on April 9.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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