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

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.