The New York Times reports: Marathon talks between major powers and Iran failed on Sunday to produce a deal to freeze its nuclear program, puncturing days of feverish anticipation and underscoring how hard it will be to forge a lasting solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Emerging from a last-ditch bargaining session that began Saturday and stretched past midnight, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said they had failed to overcome differences. They insisted they had made progress, however, and pledged to return to the table in 10 days to try again, albeit at a lower level.
“A lot of concrete progress has been made, but some differences remain,” Ms. Ashton said at a news conference early Sunday. She appeared alongside Mr. Zarif, who added, “I think it was natural that when we started dealing with the details, there would be differences.”
In the end, though, it was not only divisions between Iran and the major powers that prevented a deal, but fissures within the negotiating group. France objected strenuously that the proposed deal would do too little to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment or to stop the development of a nuclear reactor capable of producing plutonium.
“The Geneva meeting allowed us to advance, but we were not able to conclude because there are still some questions to be addressed,” the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told reporters after the talks ended.
Neither Ms. Ashton nor Mr. Zarif criticized France, saying that it had played a constructive role. But the disappointment was palpable, and the decision to hold the next meeting at the level of political director, not foreign minister, suggested that the two sides were less confident of their ability to bridge the gaps in the next round. [Continue reading…]
Julian Borger adds: Privately, however, other diplomats at the talks were furious with the role of the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, whom they accused of breaking ranks by revealing details of the negotiations as soon as he arrived in Geneva on Saturday morning, and then breaking protocol again by declaring the results to the press before Ashton and Zarif had arrived at the final press conference.
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that its “rights to enrichment” of uranium were “red lines” that would not be crossed and that the Islamic Republic had acted rationally and tactfully during the negotiations, according to Iranian media reports quoted by Reuters.
“We have said to the negotating sides that we will not answer to any threat, sanction, humiliation or discrimination. The Islamic Republic has not and will not bow its head to threats from any authority,” he said during a speech at the National Assembly, Iran’s student news agency said.
French opposition was focused on a draft text agreement that laid out a short-term deal to slow down or stop elements of the Iranian nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief. The French complained that the text, which they said was mostly drafted by Iran and the US, had been presented as a fait accompli and they did not want to be stampeded into agreement.
Fabius told France Inter radio yesterday morning that Paris would not accept a “fools’ game”. “As I speak to you, I cannot say there is any certainty that we can conclude,” he said.
Iranian officials insisted that the draft had been written in close collaboration with western officials, and said France was single-handedly holding up progress by dividing the “P5+1” negotiating group, comprising the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Zarif would not comment on the French role directly but said: “Although the questions of the P5+1 should be addressed, a great deal of time is being spent on negotiations within the P5+1 group. This is normal because they are six nations with different views and their own national interests and they need to agree.” He said that when the P5+1 was ready to agree, “we are ready to find a solution”.