Optimism, No Headway in EU-Iran Nuclear Talks – FMs Tell Netanyahu

In separate talks, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yives le Drian sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday and Monday (25-26 March) in Jerusalem exuding an aura of optimism. Neither, however, could report any substantial headway in their talks in Tehran for concessions that would dissuade US President Donald Trump from scrapping the Iran nuclear deal in May.

DEBKA Weekly’s Jerusalem sources report that after meeting Iranian officials, the two foreign ministers reported some progress in the negotiating process, owing to what they called “compression.” The Iranians appeared ready to discuss the European “non-paper” which would require Iran to formally affirm every two years its compliance with restrictions on its nuclear and ballistic development, subject to verification. If approved, this formula would enable US President Trump to avoid scrapping the nuclear accord, the European foreign ministers maintained, while leaving him still free to impose sanctions which the EU would join. European Union officials met in Brussels on Wednesday to consider this blueprint.

The European ministers were optimistic because they found the Iranian response encouraging and had the impression that President Trump was looking for a ladder to climb down from his threat to take the US out of the nuclear accord with Iran.

At the same time, the EU “non-paper” did not satisfy any of the points that Netanyahu raised at their meetings:

  1. The “sunset clause:” When the JCPOA (nuclear accord) expires in 2024, Iran will be rid of restrictions on its nuclear program and free to reactivate its centrifuges for enriching uranium. Israel insists on those restrictions becoming permanent, so that Iran will never be able to make a nuclear weapon. Maas and Le Drian informed Netanyahu that Tehran might be persuaded to extend the accord’s date of expiry but could not say for how many years. Netanyahu was not satisfied. He said that nothing less would serve than a blanket prohibition on Iran from ever developing or manufacturing a nuclear weapon at any time in the future. He is quoted as commenting: “Tehran can even today enrich enough uranium at a high enough level of purity to make atomic bombs.”
  2. The two foreign ministers were more optimistic about their ability to persuade Iran to stop developing, manufacturing and testing long-range missiles on which nuclear warheads could be mounted. Eventually, they said, Iran would allow this clause to be incorporated in the new, revised nuclear accord text. But, aside from this optimistic prognosis, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that Maas and Le Drian offered no substantial evidence in support of a real breakthrough.
  3. When Barack Obama announced that the nuclear accord he had choreographed between Iran and six world powers, he promised inspections would be secured “anywhere, anytime” However, Tehran has never given International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to its military sites, which negates the agency’s affirmations that “Iran is complying with its obligations.”

On this point too, the two foreign ministers could only offer pious hopes in the absence of any sign of Iranian willingness to open up its military sites to international inspection.

Both the French and the German ministers admitted that they had come to Jerusalem hoping that Netanyahu could persuade Trump to accept the European plan and avert the US walkout from the Iran nuclear deal. To tempt him, the two ministers held out a lure: for help in promoting European diplomacy, Brussels would turn a new page in the continent’s policy towards Israel. However, very little came out of their talks aside from an agreement to talk again in so far as the negotiations with Tehran achieved progress. DEBKA Weekly’s sources add that their briefings only strengthened Netanyahu in his conviction that their non-paper and initiative offered nothing substantive for allaying Israel’s concerns about a nuclear Iran.

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