Washington and Moscow may sound upbeat about the prospects of a signed interim deal at the next round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six powers in Geneva Wednesday, Nov. 20. However, according to debkafile’s intelligence and Iranian sources, the way ahead is still bristling with mines, more so even than the first round.
Both sides have toughened their positions. In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif face threats against yielding to Western demands. On the other side, Washington accuses France and Israel of obstructionism to get its proposal removed from the table.
Our Iranian sources have obtained exclusive access to the decision reached early Monday, Nov. 18, at an all-night conference in the bureau of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This meeting delineated Iran’s ultimate line in Geneva as being consent to idle for six months the few thousand new extra-fast IR2 centrifuges enriching uranium up to 20 percent, after which work would resume in full. Tehran draws the line completely at halting construction of the heavy water plant in Arak.
Iran’s leaders are convinced that the “modest’ sanctions offered by Washington – and which the US denies are worth $40 bn as Israel has calculated – can be substantially sweetened when it comes to the point. The ayatollah, after seeing that the country is broke from the figures shown him by Rouhani and Zarif, accepted the urgency of relaxing banking and financial restrictions, as Zarif had demanded of the Americans. This relaxation alone would put $100 bn in Iran’s coffers. This amount would keep the economy ticking over for a year and give the Islamic regime another lease of life to calm a populace ready to kick back over economic hardships.
About to mark his first 100 days in office, Rouhani badly needs to show he can make good on his pre-election pledges of economic improvements.
Responding to the complaints of hard-liners at home, Foreign Minister Zarif took up a tough negotiating stance in a comment he made Sunday, Nov. 17: “Not only do we consider that Iran’s right to enrich is non-negotiable,” he said, “but we see no need for that to be recognized as a right” because this right is inalienable and all countries must respect that.
Both he and Rouhani fear their own heads will roll if they are shown yielding to the West on uranium enrichment or the reduction of stocks.
Zarif therefore tried his hand at a formula that would not require Iran to renounce enrichment while at the same time obtaining sanctions relief: The two sides will announce an interim accord has been reached in Geneva that covers certain issues and leaves some disputed items unresolved. Implementation must go forward without delay on the agreed items.
The Iranian foreign minister explained to the Obama administration in the quiet bargaining leading up to the formal Geneva conference that a deal must be struck and implemented without delay to head off domestic opposition to any understanding he might conclude with Washington.
Administration officials were about to concede on this point to the Iranian negotiators when they ran into French resistance.
Sunday, Nov. 17, the day he arrived in Israel for a three-day state visit, French President Francois went into conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after which he laid out four points, “which for us are essential to guarantee any agreement:"
1) All of Iranian nuclear installations must be placed under international supervision right now.
2) 20-percent enriched uranium enrichment must be suspended.
3) Existing stocks must be reduced.
This can only be done by exporting a part of this stock or placing it under international control.
4) Construction of the Arak (heavy water) plant to be halted.
Netanyahu, for his part, criticized the emerging deal, without citing the US role, as a permit for Iran to continue manufacturing enough fissile material for assembling a nuclear bomb at three weeks to 26 days’ notice. A good deal, in his view, would dismantle Iran’s capacity to achieve this quantity of fissile material. He repeated that Israel would not be bound by a bad deal and reserved the right to self defense, by itself.
Yakov Amidror – until recently Netanyahu’s national security adviser – said that the Israeli Air Force had for years been practicing long-range flights in preparation for covering the 2,000km distance to Iran for a potential air strike on its nuclear facilities.
In an interview run by the Financial Times Monday, he said that these drills must show up on any Middle East radar screen. Amidror went on to say: We aren’t America, which obviously has greater capabilities than we do, but we still have sufficient to stall the Iranian program for a long time.
debkafile’s military sources add: Amidror’s remarks followed the latest US intelligence report which evaluates Israel’s capacity in a lone attack on Iran to stall Iran’s nuclear program for seven to 10 years.