After Talks, Nuclear Deal on Iran Is Seen as Close

07.03.2015 20:51

PARIS — Secretary of State
John Kerry wrapped up a
week of diplomacy in Europe
and the Middle East within
what many experts say is
striking distance of an initial
accord with Iran over its
nuclear program.
But with an end-of-March
deadline for drafting the
outline of a potential
agreement, Mr. Kerry still
faces an array of challenges
in completing that
understanding and defending
it to Congress.
Mr. Kerry’s immediate task
on Saturday was to present a
tableau of unity with
counterparts from France,
Britain and Germany a day
after the French foreign
minister, Laurent Fabius,
complained that the
emerging accord did not yet
go far enough to constrain
Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
“There has been progress but
as far as the volume, checks
and duration of the
envisaged commitments are
concerned, the situation is
still insufficient,” Mr. Fabius
said Friday. “So there is more
work to be done.”
After meeting one on one
with Mr. Fabius here on
Saturday, Mr. Kerry insisted
that France and the United
States were on the same page
and that both nations agreed
there were still gaps with the
Iranians that needed to be
“We know what we are
chasing after, and we are
chasing after the same
things,” Mr. Kerry told
reporters in a joint
appearance with the French
Mr. Fabius, for his part,
warned that if a “solid”
agreement to curb Iran’s
nuclear ambitions was not
reached, it would prompt
other states in the region to
mount their own nuclear
programs in response.
Mr. Fabius’s recent
comments were not the first
time that the French, who
have considerable expertise
on nuclear issues and have
long focused on Iran’s
nuclear efforts, have
suggested that the accord
under negotiation with Iran
needs to be strengthened.
Some American
commentators have
suggested that the French
government’s motivation is
primarily to counter the
notion that the United States
is the principal interlocutor
with Iran and is largely
intended for domestic
consumption in France.
After speaking to the news
media, Mr. Kerry and Mr.
Fabius joined a larger
meeting that included Philip
Hammond, the British foreign
secretary; Frank-Walter
Steinmeier, Germany’s
foreign minister, and
Federica Mogherini, the
foreign policy chief of the
European Union.
The Iran talks are a two-stage
progress. If the outline of an
accord is reached this month,
a detailed, comprehensive
agreement is to follow by the
end of June. But the need to
close ranks with its
negotiating partners is just
one of a series of challenges
the Obama administration is
One major issue is the
“sunset” problem — that is,
what happens after the
accord, which would limit
Iran’s nuclear program in
return for lifting economic
sanctions, expires. The length
of the accord has not been
decided, but it could be 15
years or less.
Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu of Israel
expressed alarm in his
Tuesday address before
Congress that Iran would be
free to vastly expand its
network of centrifuges, which
are used to enrich uranium,
after the accord ends. That,
Israeli officials have argued,
would greatly compress the
time that Iran would need to
develop nuclear weapons and
would encourage Arab
nations in the region to follow
Administration officials
assert that that criticism is off
base. But they have yet to
detail what combination of
verification measures and
possible constraints on Iran’s
nuclear activities would
remain in place.
Another important issue is
what form any initial
understanding might take. If
an understanding is reached
this month, as many experts
expect, will it take the form
of a written document that
would be disseminated
publicly? Or would it be a
confidential understanding?
Anything less than a public
document would make it
harder for the Obama
administration to make its
case to Congress against the
imposition of additional
economic sanctions. But in a
speech last month, Iran’s
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei, was critical of the
two-step approach, fearing
that an initial public
document might be used to
codify Iranian concessions
without committing the
United States and its
negotiating partners to a firm
schedule for removing
economic sanctions.
A key issue, which is formally
outside the scope of the Iran
talks, is how to counter Iran’s
influence in the Middle East
and its interventions in Syria
and Yemen.
During his visit to Riyadh
earlier this week, Mr. Kerry
insisted that the United States
was not pursuing a “grand
bargain” with Iran that would
be at its neighbors’ expense.
But Israel, Saudi Arabia and
other Persian Gulf states
worry that lifting economic
sanctions would put the
Iranians in a stronger
position to pursue an
aggressive foreign policy.