Iran nuclear talks adjourn, Netanyahu leaves Moscow ’empty-handed’

Iran claims ‘crisis of faith’ over terms of a deal; Netanyahu demands ‘full freeze’ in Iranian program; Khamenei says Israel is ‘rabid dog… not human’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 in Geneva. (photo credit: US State Department)
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 in Geneva. (photo credit: US State Department)

Talks between Iran and world powers on an interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program resumed and then quickly adjourned Wednesday evening in Geneva, with the plenary session lasting a mere 10 minutes. More talks are expected in the coming days.

Iranian officials spoke of a “crisis of faith” between their negotiators and the P5+1 countries, because the terms of the proposed deal were changed at the last moment when the sides last met 10 days ago, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported.

Just before the brief session, however, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who voiced optimism about the negotiations. The two were set to meet again Thursday morning for what Zarif called “serious negotiations” on his Facebook page.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a joint press conference with President Vladimir Putin, reiterated his demand for the full dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. Channel 2 news reported, however, that Putin made “no promises” to Netanyahu that Russia would seek stiffer terms for Iran in the interim deal, and said that the prime minister would thus be leaving Moscow empty-handed.

Netanyahu insisted that the international community must demand the closure of Iran’s heavy water facility in Arak, and the cessation of all Iranian uranium enrichment. “We believe it is possible to reach a better agreement, but it requires us to be consistent and persistent,” he said.

During their talks, Netanyahu reportedly praised Putin for Russia’s role in formulating the agreement by which Syria is being stripped of its chemical weapons, and said that just as a deal that left some chemical weapons in the hands of President Bashar Assad would be unacceptable, so too a deal that left any enrichment capability in the hands of the Iranians.

Putin remarked that Moscow was optimistic about the talks in Geneva and hoped a mutually acceptable solution would be found.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin in Moscow on November 20, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Kremlin in Moscow on November 20, 2013. (Photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)

A senior US administration official told a Guardian reporter that the meeting between the P5+1 nations and Iranian representatives was unusually brief because it “was meant as a quick off on how we are going forward.” The “text of agreement is on the table,” the US official said, and would be discussed in the coming days by the representatives of Iran and world powers.

An American official, commenting on Iran’s demand that the world powers recognize its right to enrich uranium, said that “I believe it’s possible to navigate this matter in the framework of the agreement,” Israel Radio reported.

The talks resumed in Geneva hours after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had referred to Israel — which he called “the Zionist regime” — as “the rabid dog of the region.” Khamenei said Europe felt pressed to make concessions to the Zionists “because of their economic network,” but said the Zionist entity was doomed to collapse, and that its people “should not be called humans,” according to a Channel 2 translation of his comments.

Speaking to some 50,000 members of a paramilitary militia, Khamenei also said Israel would disappear. “The Zionist regime is a regime whose pillars are extremely shaky and is doomed to collapse,” he said, according to French news agency AFP. “Any phenomenon that is created by force cannot endure.”

TV footage showed the crowd shouting, “Death to Israel.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Ashton met with Zarif in the lead-up to the multinational talks aimed as resolving concerns over Iran’s rogue nuclear program. Zarif and his deputy, Abbas Araqchi, said the meeting was “constructive and useful,” BBC correspondent Susanne Kianpour tweeted after the get-together with Ashton. China‘s Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong also told Kianpour that “things are on track” for a deal with Iran.

Araqchi said that if there were good results from the day’s talks a draft agreement could be discussed on Friday.

Despite any agreement with Iran, however, one former US official contended that it’s “as clear as day” that Iran would continue to enrich uranium. Mark Fitzpatrick told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that “There’s going to be some enrichment at the end of the day of any deal that’s done.”

“Iran is just simply not going to capitulate no matter how many sanctions they face,” the former non-proliferation official said.

Netanyahu had flown to Moscow earlier Wednesday, urging more stringent terms for an interim deal with Iran. At their joint press conference, Netanyahu called on the international community to stand by what he said were its original demands for an end to all enrichment of uranium by Iran, the export of all already enriched material, and the closure of the under-construction heavy water plant at Arak. Netanyahu said Israel and Russia “share the goal” of preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.

In comments Tuesday, US President Barack Obama said the goal of the interim deal was that Iran would halt the “advance” of its nuclear program and “roll back” some elements of it, while also accepting more serious international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, and a possible deal between the world powers and Tehran, the Washington Post published a brief survey on Wednesday that indicated that while most Americans favor reaching an interim agreement, there’s significant doubt that it would prevent Iran from ultimately obtaining nuclear weapons.

Asked if they support signing an agreement that would see some sanctions lifted from Iran in return for a reduction in its nuclear program that would maker it hard to produce weapons, 64% agreed and 30% opposed.

However, when asked how confident they were that such an agreement would prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons, only 36% said they were and 61% said they were not confident the deal would work.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll sampled by telephone 1,006 adults and had a 3.5% margin of error.

Speaking to new recruits Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said, “It is good that the world is busy trying to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. As a military commander, it’s my role to ensure that we continue to strengthen relevant capabilities.”

Iran is hoping to negotiate an easing of sanctions placed on the country in an effort to force it to roll back is nuclear program.

A round of meetings earlier in November nearly ended with the inking of an interim deal — under which Iran would have frozen part of its program in exchange for an easing of non-core sanctions — despite Israel’s strong objection to any agreement that leaves Iran with the ability to develop nuclear weapons. The deal on the table reportedly allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium to 3.5% during the six-month interim period during which a full deal would be sought.

French objections to the interim terms, under which Iran would also have been permitted to continue work on its Arak heavy water facility, apparently scuppered an agreement 10 days ago.

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