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

Photogallery US to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Expanded Ebola Effort

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Obama is to announce troop deployment, other details of US plans to fight Ebola outbreak More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid