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France's spanner scuppers Iran nuclear deal

Source: Tehran Times

GENEVA - As chief diplomats from Iran and the major powers were about to agree on a last-minute draft deal on Iran’s nuclear program, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius caused the talks to hit a snag as he insisted that Iran must suspend the Arak heavy water reactor while negotiations continue with the goal of reaching a first-stage agreement and then a comprehensive final deal.

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Fabius said that “for us” suspension was absolutely necessary.

He also said the draft fails to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium. 

“There are several points that... we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” Fabius said, adding that France did not want to be part of what he called a “con game.” He did not specify, but the totality of his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran.

A Western diplomat in Geneva for the talks told The Associated Press that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the United States and France’s other negotiating partners.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius talking to reporters in Geneva

The French foreign minister’s comments came amid a whirl of diplomatic activity, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, and Russia engaged in round-robin meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is overseeing the talks. 

In response to Fabius, the Iranian foreign minister said any deal should be based on mutual respect, an equal footing, and respect for the Iranian people’s right, otherwise it would not “last long.” 

Zarif stated that after three days of talks, the two sides have reached a “very sensitive stage” which is in fact a prelude to writing a draft in which all the countries involved -- Iran and the six others -- could agree on it.

“This is a difficult stage. Iran’s concerns should be taken into consideration, and also the differences that exist between the 3+3,” Zarif noted.

He added it is natural that there are differences between the members of the 3+3 group, which is the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany) and Russia, the United States, and China, which is also called the 5+1 group.

“It is natural. They are six countries with different perspectives, and probably different interests, and they need to reach a conclusion. If the other side is ready to reach a solution, we are also ready, and we have made good progress on this path.”

Zarif said Iran is ready to give the 5+1 group more time to resolve the differences between themselves.

He went on to say that he had held two rounds of talks with Kerry, one lasting five hours late on Friday and another for two hours on Saturday.

Zarif also said if Iran and the 5+1 group fail to agree on a joint draft, the talks will continue in a week or ten days.

British foreign secretary says ‘seize the moment’ 

With the exception of France, the other European officials said the negotiations were fundamentally different from the fruitless sessions before Hassan Rouhani took over as the Iranian president. 

“All of the ministers who are here are conscious of that fact that some momentum has built up in these negotiations,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters on Saturday. “There is now a real concentration on these negotiations, so we have to do everything we can to seize the moment and seize the opportunity to reach a deal.” 

Zarif, Ashton, Hague, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle held a quadripartite meeting on Saturday morning. Zarif also held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

After the meeting, Germany and Britain expressed support for the process of the Geneva talks, according to an Iranian Foreign Ministry official. 

Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ashton, said there had been further contacts between the delegations during the morning.

“There has been clearly progress, but like in all these things, it’s always a bit more complicated than people think, so we’re working very hard and intensively to try and move things forward,” Mann said.

Negotiators consulting their capitals on Iran nuclear deal: informed source 

Nuclear negotiators involved in the Geneva talks consulted their capitals about a possible deal on Iran’s nuclear program, an informed source close to the Iranian negotiating team told the Tehran Times reporter early on Saturday.   

In addition, Iranian Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri said on Saturday that the Iranian negotiators were in contact with Tehran.

“The negotiations have reached (a) critical, very sensitive situation, and it needs decisions at higher levels,” said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who is one of the country’s lead negotiators. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Saturday that the 5+1 group should not lose the “exceptional opportunity” created by Iran for a nuclear deal.

Rouhani made the remarks during a meeting with the Japanese foreign minister in Tehran.

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