Auteur: Andrew Rettman
BRUSSELS - Talks on Iran’s nuclear programme have been extended until July, with the EU wondering whether to keep Catherine Ashton in the process.
International powers and Iran, at the Colburg Palace in Vienna on Monday (24 November), rounded off one year of haggling with a decision to put off the deadline for a “comprehensive deal” until 30 June.
US secretary of state John Kerry told press the past year saw Iran respect its “interim” commitments.
He noted that its stock of near weapons-grade uranium has gone down from 200kg to zero; that production of plutonium at the Arak reactor is “frozen”; and that UN inspectors now have “daily access” to facilities.
He added that “in exchange”, Iran is getting access to $700 million a month of its funds in frozen bank accounts.
He cautioned reporters not to trust “sources” on the details of what is a highly-classified discussion.
He also praised Iranian FM Mohammad Zarif, saying he negotiated “in good faith and with seriousness of purpose”.
For his part, Zarif said sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians while doing nothing to stop its “right” to develop peaceful nuclear energy.
“The effect of sanctions can be seen in how many centrifuges are spinning in Iran. When we began the sanctions process, Iran had less than 200 centrifuges. Today, it has over 20,000”, he noted.
“Nuclear weapons don’t serve our strategic interests and are against the core principles of our faith”.
The talks - involving Iran, France, Germany, the UK, China, and Russia - are designed to address fears that Iran is developing nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles.
If the process succeeds, it will give the West a fully-fledged partner in its fight against Islamic State and open a new market of 76 million people.
If it fails, it could end in an Israeli-Iran war.
Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu told the BBC on Monday that Iran is like Nazi Germany on the eve of WWII.
"If this position [non-appeasement] had been taken against Germany in the 1930s it would have offended German pride but it would have saved millions of lives", he said.
“You do not want to give this medievalist regime, that throws acid in the faces of women, that oppresses gays, that subjugates an entire population, that exports terrorism far and wide, you don’t want to give these violent medievalists atomic bombs”.
But Zarif, in Vienna, retorted that Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, is the most dangerous country in the Middle East.
“Probably the most serious violators of the international [nuclear] non-proliferation programme are the strongest voice against an agreement and are trying to create phobia [of Iran] in the international community”.
Will Ashton stay on?
For her part, Ashton - the EU’s former foreign policy chief, who has chaired the nuclear talks for the past 12 months - on Monday read out a joint EU-Iran statement and left the press room without taking questions.
She stepped down from her EU post on 1 November, but was kept in the nuclear talks until Monday’s initial deadline.
Her new boss, Italy’s Federica Mogherini, told press in Strasbourg the same day that she is consulting with the US and Germany on whether to keep Ashton in place until July.
“That’s for me to consider”, Mogherini noted. “It will be decided in the coming days”.
She added there is “a little bit of disappointment, we were all hoping for an agreement tonight [but there is] … also a little bit of hope”.
"It's important that negotiations will continue”.