News / Middle East

Iran Nuclear Negotiators Under Pressure After Leader's Speech

FILE - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
FILE - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Reuters

A major speech by Iran's Supreme Leader has limited the ability of the Iranian delegation at high-level nuclear talks to make concessions with six world powers and this could scuttle chances for Tehran to reach an accord to end sanctions, diplomats said.

In a public address filled with technical detail, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week Iran needs to significantly increase its uranium enrichment capacity, clashing with the powers' push for it to be reduced to minimize the risk of nuclear bombmaking, as July 20 deadline for a deal nears.

The talks with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are aimed at a long-term accord on Iran curbing its nuclear energy program in exchange for a gradual end of sanctions that have crippled the OPEC member's economy.

In his speech, which analysts compared in importance to a State of the Union address by a U.S. president, Khamenei said he had faith in his negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his deputy, Abbas Araqchi.

Several diplomats close to the talks said the speech, which included many details about the nuclear program and Iranian demands on it, came as a surprise to the Iranian delegation.

One Western diplomat said the delegation appeared “taken aback” by Khamenei's remarks at such a sensitive time in the nuclear negotiations - just ahead of the July 20 deadline for a deal. Two Iranian sources confirmed that assessment.

“In ostensibly expressing support for the Iranian negotiating team, close scrutiny of Khamenei's speech shows that in reality his remarks were aimed at severely curtailing his team's room for maneuver, making it effectively impossible to bridge gaps with the stance of the (six powers),” according to a Western intelligence analysis of the speech seen by Reuters.

Khamenei's message was a reminder of the tensions within Iran's complex power elite between conservative hardliners - like him - wary of any detente with the West they fear would imperil the Islamic Revolution - and moderates who see a nuclear deal as Iran's ticket out of economically crippling isolation.

Pragmatist Hassan Rouhani's landslide 2013 election as Iranian president on a platform of improving Iran's foreign relations to revive the economy opened the door to nuclear diplomacy and a possible improvement of ties with the West. Resolving the decade-long nuclear standoff with Iran is seen as vital to allaying fears of a new war in the Middle East.

Iran and the six resumed talks in Vienna on July 2 and their negotiators continued meetings in the Austrian capital on Monday, though there was no immediate sign of any substantive progress. Western and Iranian officials have complained publicly that the sides remain far apart on all key issues in the talks.

Iran's capacity to refine uranium lies at the center of the nuclear stalemate and is seen as the hardest issue to resolve in the Vienna talks, which began in February. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna to help break the deadlock. He met Zarif for a second day in a row on Monday.

The Islamic Republic denies Western allegations that its declared program to enrich fuel for civilian nuclear energy is a front for pursuing the capability to produce atomic weapons.

Dispute over centrifuges

A relative of Khamenei's explained to Reuters the motivation for the speech. “The leader is above all the factions. He felt that it was essential to state his red lines publicly to avoid any misunderstanding by either side involved in the talks.

“His speech contained clear technical points,” the relative added. “Now everyone, whether Iranian or non-Iranian, clearly understands what is negotiable and what is not.”

Unusually, Khamenei's July 7 speech included details on what he described as Iran's enrichment “needs”, defending it against what he indicated was the West's dismissive attitude towards the Islamic Republic. Western officials say that enrichment on home soil is not a “need” for Iran and that it can obtain cheaper and better fuel for civilian reactors from Russia and elsewhere.

Khamenei suggested that Iran needed 190,000 centrifuge machines in the long term - a 19-fold increase in its current operational capacity to refine uranium.

U.S. and European negotiators want Iran to have a figure in the low thousands to ensure it cannot quickly amass enough for atomic bomb fuel, should it someday choose to do so.

Some analysts have suggested that Khamenei's speech actually indicated a level of flexibility because he was talking about long-term Iranian plans. Others disagree.

“[Khamenei's] statement served both as a directive upon his negotiating team and as an apparent effort to shift the framework of the debate away from Western demands, essentially grounding the talks,” the intelligence analysis said.

Earlier this month, Iranian and Western officials close to the talks said Iran was reducing its demands for centrifuges well below the figure Khamenei used. But in the wake of Khamenei's speech, diplomats said, far-reaching compromises by the Iranians will be more difficult.

“In our assessment, Khamenei's remarks were not coordinated with the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna at present, and were intended to cut off their ability to negotiate effectively,” the intelligence analysis said.

“Furthermore, they were aimed at sending a clear message to the international community that the negotiating team does not have the mandate to compromise on the most critical issues under discussion - above all, Iran's uranium enrichment capacity.”

Iran expert Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group said of Khamenei's speech that “drawing public red lines won't help the negotiators to narrow the gaps” in positions.

Western and Iranian diplomats said that after Khamenei's speech it would be more difficult for Zarif and Araqchi to sell concessions back in Tehran on centrifuges and other issues, such as Western demands that Iran shut the Fordow enrichment site. Khamenei said that demand was “laughable.”

President Rouhani's brother Hossein Fereydoun arrived in Vienna to join the talks and send details of the negotiations back to the president, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday. It was not immediately clear if that was linked to concerns on Rouhani's part in the wake of Khamenei's speech.

While Rouhani and Zarif may sincerely want to reach a deal that would dismantle the sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy, diplomats and analysts say that Khamenei is wary of reaching a swift accord with the West, above all with the United States - the “Great Satan” and Iran's arch-enemy since 1979.

“Obviously Khamenei does not want to share his power and authority with Rouhani or anyone else,” said a diplomat in Tehran. “For him an extension is an ideal situation. If he feels that his power might be challenged by a nuclear deal, Khamenei will ignore its economic benefits by rejecting it.”

The talks on a long-term nuclear deal can theoretically be prolonged for up to six months if all sides agree. Some analysts and diplomats say an extension might be necessary but U.S. officials say there needs to be further progress on key issues in the coming days if an extension is to be approved.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs