Iranian leaders urgently mull some nuclear flexibility. Rouhani tells Khamenei: The cupboard is bare!
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif asked Sunday, Nov. 10 for an urgent meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the day after France aborted a nuclear accord at the Geneva conference with the six powers, debkafile’s exclusive sources report.
Before flying out of Geneva, Zarif called the president and warned him that unless Iran displayed a measure of flexibility, the negotiations with the powers would remain stalled – and badly-needed relief from sanctions stay out of reach – even at the reconvened conference on Nov. 20.
The two Iranian leaders estimate that the West will not give ground on two basic demands: the removal of Iran’s stock of 20-percent grade enriched uranium and a commitment not to activate the heavy water plant under construction at Arak. The completion of the reactor some time next year would therefore find Iran prohibited from using it under its international commitments.
In a public statement Sunday, Rouhani declared that enrichment is a red line for Iran. “We have said to the negotiating sides that we will not respond to any threat, sanction, humiliation or discrimination. The Islamic Republic has not and will not bow its head to threats from any authority.”
But privately, the president asked to be received by the supreme leader in order to warn him that persistent Iranian intransigence would blow up negotiations on the first, six-month step of a comprehensive agreement and bury the prospect of eased sanctions.
Our Iranian sources doubt whether Khamenei will agree to the export of Iran’s 20-percent refined uranium stock out of the country, but he might consider its conversion into fuel rods to allay the concerns Western delegates raised in Geneva that Iran had accumulated this material ready for assembling a nuclear weapon.
Rouhani and Zarif are also expected to ask the leader for permission to accept a freeze on the introduction of new centrifuges at the enrichment plants. They will tell him that this restraint needs to hold good for no more than a six-month period and would meanwhile elicit relaxations of some sanctions.
The president warned Khamenei earlier that the Iranian treasury is empty and without some sanction relief in the next couple of months, the government will be unable to cover its current operating expenses.
Western sources with access to the closed-door deliberations held in Geneva from Thursday to Saturday reveal that for the sake of a deal, Washington was ready to offer Iran a sanctions relief package worth nearly $20bn, to save the Iranian economy from bankruptcy. Secretary of State John Kerry told Iran’s foreign minister the US was ready to advance at once $3 billion of the estimated $50 billion of Iranian assets frozen in Western banks, and also end restrictions on Iranian’s gold, petrochemical and car industries. This would have netted the Iranian treasury another $16.5 billion. Zarif asked the package to also include restoring SWIFT foreign transfer services to Iranian banks.
Both Washington and Tehran counted on a deal being clinched at the Geneva conference. Following its disappointing outcome, the Iranian regime is gripped with rising concern that the country’s further plunge into economic crisis may touch off violent protests and street demonstrations that could spill over into a popular uprising.