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Kerry: World powers agree to nuclear deal, but Iran ‘walked away’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) listens to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a news conference after nuclear talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva November 10, 2013.(Reuters / Denis Balibouse)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) listens to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a news conference after nuclear talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva November 10, 2013.(Reuters / Denis Balibouse)

US Secretary of State John Kerry countered claims France had torpedoed nuclear talks with Iran, saying the six world powers “signed off” on a deal, but Iran wasn’t ready to accept it. Tehran and the UN nuclear watchdog agreed on a roadmap for cooperation.

Kerry delivered his comments in Abu Dhabi on Monday following rampant speculation behind why marathon talks between the P5+1 – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France  and Germany – and Iran on Saturday failed to produce an agreement.

Speaking to reporters,  Kerry said the major powers were “unified on Saturday when we presented a proposal to the Iranians, and the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal. There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it at that particular moment, they weren’t able to accept that particular thing.”

Kerry added that the US was “not (in) a race” to complete talks with Iran on its uranium enrichment program, reaffirming Washington’s commitment to defend its allies and not undermine ties with them.

Kerry officially confirmed Western diplomatic chatter on Sunday that contrary to widespread speculation, France was not responsible for scuttling the talks.

In the talks, France insisted that any agreement must entail Iran suspending construction of its Arak heavy-water reactor, which can produce plutonium, as well as halt uranium enrichment to a concentration of 20 percent. In return, Western powers would ease crippling sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.

On Sunday, a senior American official who briefed Israeli reporters and experts in Jerusalem on Sunday said that the six world powers in the talks had in fact approved a working document and presented it to the Iranians, the New York Times cites Herb Keinon of The Jerusalem Post as saying.

“It was too tough for them,” Keinon quoted the American official as saying of the Iranians. “They have to go back home, talk to their government and come back.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also attempted to deflect criticism that France had intentionally sunk the marathon talks in Geneva over the weekend.

“We are firm, but not rigid. We want peace, and we want to reach the end,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Fabius also sounded a note of optimism, saying “We are not far from an agreement with the Iranians, but we are not there yet.”

Later on Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a preliminary deal with Iran would entail,“limited, proportionate sanctions relief.”

“The talks broke up without reaching that interim agreement, because some gaps between the parties remain. While I cannot go into the details of the discussions while the talks continue I can say that most of those gaps are now narrow, and many others were bridged altogether during the negotiations.” 

Hague confirmed that all six sides “presented the same united position to Iran, which gives an extremely strong foundation for the next round of talks on 20th November.” He further said momentum should be built behind the Geneva negotiations so that the “opportunity of making progress does not slip away.” 

All sides on the same wavelength?

On Sunday, however, Iran directed its ire at France, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning France risked turning the Islamic Republic into an “enemy.”

“French officials have been openly hostile towards the Iranian nation over the past few years; this is an imprudent and inept move,” a Twitter account believed to be run by Khameni’s office posted on Sunday.

“A wise man, particularly a wise politician, should never have the motivation to turn a neutral entity into an enemy,” another tweet said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, reacting to news from Geneva, told parliament Tehran would not bow to “sanctions, threats, contempt and discrimination,” state-run Press TV reported.

“For us, red lines are not to be crossed,” Rouhani said in reference to a statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the UN General Assembly last year, in which he depicted “a red line” of uranium enrichment that, if crossed, would incite an Israeli strike against Iran.

“The rights of the Iranian nation and [our] national interests are our red lines,” he said.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has not bowed and will not bow to threats by any power,” he added.

The semiofficial Fars news agency criticized the “destructive roles of France and Israel” for the failure of negotiators to reach an interim deal, opting to run a cartoon which depicted France as a frog firing a gun.

“By shooting he feels he is important,” the caption read.

Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, attempted to put a positive spin on the failed talks.

“We are all on the same wavelength, and that gives us the impetus to go forward when we meet again,”Zarif told reporters.

Kerry’s statement at the time echoed both Zarif’s sentiments and comments made by Fabius on Monday.

“There’s no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva, than we were when we came, and that with good work and good faith over the course of the next weeks, we can in fact secure our goal,” he said.

The next round of talks between lower-level negotiators will be held in just over a week’s time.

Iran, UN nuclear watchdog reach deal

Meanwhile, Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have reached a deal to a ‘roadmap for cooperation’ over Iran’s nuclear program.

The deal was signed after the meeting between IAEA head Yukiya Amano and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, reports Iranian news agency ISNA.

“The practical measures will be implemented in the next three months, starting from today,” Reuters cited Amano as saying at a news conference in Tehran, which was broadcast on state television.

Salehi, who delivered comments alongside Amano, said the joint statement “represents a road map that specifies bilateral steps in relation to resolving outstanding issues.”

The roadmap involves an inspector visit of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor, which was one of the stumbling blocks in last week’s nuclear talks in Geneva.

Inspectors will also be allowed to the Gachin uranium mine, a domestic source of uranium ore for the Iranian nuclear reactors.

“I have received permission for inspectors to visit the Arak heavy water plant and the Gachin mine, which has been requested by the agency, and Iran has voluntarily announced its readiness for this,”ISNA quoted Salehi as saying.

The agreement further listed a series of steps Iran would take to ensure greater transparency regarding its nuclear program, including “managed access” to the sites open to IAEA inspection, Reuters, which saw a copy of the deal, reports.

Amano said the implementation of the roadmap, which is intended to verify Iran’s claim that its uranium enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes, is expected to take three months.

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