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Kerry Heads to Vienna in Final Push for Iran Nuclear Agreement

By Victor Beattie, VOA

cartoon by Mohammad Tahani, Iranian daily Arman

WASHINGTON- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will return to Vienna Friday for the final phase of negotiations on a comprehensive international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

On Wednesday, Kerry warned, “It may be that the Iranians will not fill out the full measure of what was agreed on” in the framework agreement reached in April.

Kerry was reacting to remarks made on state television Tuesday by Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said Iran would not allow international inspectors access to military sites, scientists or documents.

The Iranian leader rejected limitations on the country’s nuclear program, lasting for 10 or 12 years, as unacceptable. He also demanded international sanctions be lifted as soon as a deal is signed, rather than being phased out.

'Major red lines'

Kerry said the speech and Khamenei’s comments on his Twitter feed about “major red lines” were “for domestic political consumption” adding “it is not new.”

He said, “What matters ... is what is agreed upon within the four corners of a document, and that is what is yet to be determined.”

The secretary said that if Iran fails to abide by what was agreed to in the framework reached in Lausanne, “there will not be an agreement.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest Wednesday acknowledged tough bargaining lies ahead.

"The negotiations continue to be difficult, but there continues to be a good faith effort on both sides to try to complete them in the timetable we’ve laid out," Earnest said. "So, there’s a reason they continue to negotiate, but I don’t want to leave you with the impression that all of the difficult challenges have been resolved."

Working on details

Negotiators from Iran and six world powers have been working on the details of a plan to scale back Iran's nuclear program for a period of 10 years in exchange for relief from sanctions that have hurt the country's economy.

The pace of sanctions relief and the monitoring and verification procedures to ensure Tehran is not cheating are considered the main sticking points.

Earnest said Wednesday the only result the U.S. will accept is one consistent with the framework agreement.

"We are very focused on the actions of the negotiators at the negotiating table and of Iran’s willingness to live up to the commitments they make if they do eventually make them," he said.

"We have been really clear about the fact that we’re only going to agree to a final agreement if it reflects the political agreement that was reached back in the first week of April, and if that is not something the Iranians will be able to agree to then we will not successfully complete the negotiations," he added.

Remarks found disturbing

University of San Francisco Middle East analyst Stephen Zunes said any agreement will need the endorsement of the Ayatollah Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran.

Zunes said he finds Khamenei’s remarks disturbing.

"Even though Iran is, of course, an authoritarian system, it’s not one-man rule. There are competing tendencies, both hardline and moderate, and while the Ayatollah Khamenei is the single most powerful [leader], there are a lot of forces at work, and it appears that most Iranians, both in the government and the country as a whole, are in favor of moving the deal forward," he said.

Iran's Guardian Council Wednesday ratified legislation that requires the government to protect the country's nuclear rights and bans access by international inspectors to military sites and scientists.

Zunes said the new law appears to affect only non-nuclear sites in Iran.

"The rigorous inspection regime tentatively agreed to is not affected by this. At the same time, the agreement is somewhat vague in terms of what ancillary sites would be included, so it is possible this could be an obstacle, but not necessarily a fatal one," he said.

The measure does allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to make routine visits to Iranian nuclear sites within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Former Ambassador James Jeffrey is one of several former officials, including five who served in the Obama administration, who signed an open letter expressing concern the pending agreement could fall short of a good one.

Jeffrey, with the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, said the signatories are concerned the administration will offer further concessions on inspections, Tehran’s past work on weapons, and its continued research and development.

"Walking back the [Lausanne framework] agreement on the part of the Iranians, thus accepted by the United States, would be a terrible mistake. We have alternatives. One would be to continue negotiating with them. Nothing is sacred about the 30th of June," he said.

Prohibit acquisition

Jeffrey said the important thing is that Iran be prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons or getting close enough that it can blackmail the region and the world.

He warned yielding to last-minute Iranian demands would show the U.S. and its negotiating partners are weak, which would have implications in places like Syria and Yemen.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press, quoting a confidential draft document, said the West is offering Tehran light-water nuclear reactors and fuel as an alternative to its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak, which could produce enough plutonium for several bombs a year.

The draft reportedly offers an international partnership to modify the Arak facility.

Jeffrey said such offers will make it difficult for any nuclear agreement with Iran to meet the bar established by the U.S. Congress to pass its review.

Under legislation signed into law by the president, Congress will have up to 60 days to review and approve or reject the deal.


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