The Guardian reports: A meeting in a Geneva hotel room between the US secretary of state and his French counterpart led to an 11th-hour toughening of the west’s position on Iran’s nuclear programme that proved unacceptable to Iranian negotiators, say western officials.
John Kerry’s Saturday-night meeting with Laurent Fabius was a late turning point in three days of intense talks among foreign ministers that resulted only in a decision to resume negotiations at a lower level in Geneva next week.
In the discussion in the US secretary of state’s room at the Geneva InterContinental, Fabius insisted on two key points in the drafting of an interim agreement with Iran: there should be no guarantees in the preamble about the country’s right to enrich uranium; and work would have to stop on a heavy-water nuclear reactor. Iran is building the Arak reactor, capable of producing plutonium, about 130 miles south-west of Tehran.
In the words of one French official: “Kerry was confident enough to accept what Fabius had to say.” The two points were included in a three-page draft proposal put together by the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, who acts as a convenor for a six-nation group involved in the talks.
The draft agreement also imposed limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium in return for limited sanction relief.
At 9.20pm on Saturday the agreement was put before foreign ministers from the UK, Germany, Russia and the deputy foreign minister of China, who make up the rest of the “P5+1” group, which has been negotiating with Iran for seven years.
“Kerry was even more forceful in presenting this draft than Fabius. He got behind it,” the French official said. The P5+1 ministers approved it, and at 10.50pm it was put to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had joined the meeting in a conference room in the hotel.
However, in the preamble of a joint statement, Zarif had been seeking language that would at least implicitly recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He had also insisted on construction continuing at Arak, and suggested that international concerns could be assuaged if the work stopped short of putting uranium fuel in the reactor and turning it on.
But at 10 minutes past midnight on Sunday morning, it was agreed that all parties would consult their capitals and try again at a meeting of foreign ministry political directors on 20 November. Ministers would not attend but could be on hand if needed.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi after the meeting, Kerry singled out Iran for the failure to agree. “The French signed off on it; we signed off on it,” he said. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”
Zarif took to Twitter to rebut that claim. “Mr Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?” Zarif said in a pointed reference to Fabius’s role. “No amount of spinning can change what happened in 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thurs. to 5.45 PM Sat. But it can further erode confidence”
Western officials conceded that unity had been achieved only on the last night of the negotiations, leaving little time for the Iranians to respond; much of the preceding 60 hours of talks had been among the P5+1 group seeking a common position. [Continue reading…]