by Jasmin Ramsey
*This post has been updated
Geneva — While diplomats involved in negotiations over Iran’s controversial nuclear program here have been mostly tight-lipped about the details of their meetings, France — which along with Britain, China, Russia and the United States plus Germany composes the so-called P5+1 — vocalized today some of its concerns.
Stating that he is interested in an agreement that is “serious and credible”, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius argued that the “initial text made progress but not enough” during an interview with France Inter radio.
According to François Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Tehran (2001–05), the French position on Iran’s nuclear program has not changed since François Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy on May 12 as President.
“We have a kind of continuity in the French administration where the people who advised Mr. Sarkozy are the same ones who advise the current administration,” the veteran French diplomat told IPS, adding that France’s relations with Iran were more positive during the Jacques Chirac administration.
“This is especially true for the Iranian nuclear case because it’s very technical and complex and the government really needs to be convinced before it changes its position,” he said.
Fabius expressed concerns earlier today over Iran’s enrichment of 20%-grade uranium and its Arak facility, which is not yet fully operational.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated that “If the news from Geneva is true, this is the deal of the century for #Iran,” on Nov. 7 from his official Twitter account, has previously accused Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb byway of its Arak nuclear facility.
“[Iran] also continued work on the heavy water reactor in Arak; that’s in order to have another route to the bomb, a plutonium path,” said Netanyahu during his Oct. 1 speech at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), says its nuclear program is completely peaceful.
While the Obama administration has declared that it will prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, the US intelligence community has not officially assessed that Iran has made the decision to do so.
According to the 2013 US Worldwide Threat Assessment, Iran “has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”
Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association, says the Arak facility “is more than a year from being completed; it would have to be fully operational for a year to produce spent fuel that could be used to extract plutonium.”
“Iran does not have a reprocessing plant for plutonium separation; and Arak would be under IAEA safeguards the whole time,” he noted in comments printed in the Guardian.
“The Arak Reactor certainly presents a proliferation problem, but there is nothing urgent,” said Nicoullaud, a veteran diplomat who has previously authored analyses of Iran’s nuclear activities.
“The best solution would be to transform it before completion into a light-water research reactor, which would create less problems,” he said, adding: “This is perfectly feasible, with help from the outside.”
“Have we tried to sell this solution to the Iranians? I do not know,” said Nicoullaud.
The unexpected arrival of US Secretary of State John F. Kerry yesterday and all but one of the P5+1’s Foreign Ministers in Geneva — following positive EU and Iranian descriptions here at end of the first day of the Nov. 7-8 talks — led to speculation that some form of an agreement would soon be signed.
While diplomats involved in the talks have provided few details to the media, it’s now become clear that the approximately 6-hour meeting last night between Kerry, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton involved the consideration of a draft agreement presented by the Iranians.
That meeting also contributed to speculation that a document would soon be signed until the early morning hours of Nov. 9, when the LA Times reported that after reaching a critical stage, the negotiators were facing obstacles.
While Western and Iranian diplomats involved in the talks have stated that “progress” has been made, it’s not yet clear whether that has led to a mutually acceptable agreement.
“There has been some progress, but there is still a gap,” Zarif said to reporters earlier today according to the Fars News Agency.
While briefing Iranian media here this afternoon, Zarif acknowledged French concerns but insisted on Iran’s positions.
“We have an attitude and the French have theirs,” said Zarif in comments posted in Persian on the Iranian Student News Agency.
“Negotiation is an approach that is based on mutual respect. If not, they won’t be stable,” he said.
“We won’t allow anyone to compile a draft for us,” said Zarif.
Photo Credit: U.S. Mission Geneva/Eric Bridiers
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