A deal over Iran’s nuclear program appears unlikely by a Nov. 24 deadline, meaning an extension of the interim agreement may be needed to press Iran for more concessions, the French ambassador to Washington said.
Iran wants “sanctions lifted immediately,” while negotiators for six international powers want an “incremental and reversible suspension” of economic penalties, based on Iran’s compliance with limits on its nuclear activities, Gerard Araud, who served as France’s chief nuclear negotiator with Iran from 2006 to 2009, said yesterday at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.
“The Iranians are really negotiating,” he said. “The problem is whether they are ready to pay the price for an agreement” and “for the moment, they are not.”
“We are ready to accept a few thousands of centrifuges, more as a sort of face-saving” solution for Iran, “to show that Iran has not given up enrichment,” he said.
The Iranians’ last proposal was “to keep what they have right now,” about 19,000 declared centrifuges, half of which are currently operating, with the right to add more in the future for a theoretical industrial-scale energy program, a position Araud said is unacceptable to the international community.
If Iran’s doesn’t change that, it’s hard to “see how we could have an agreement on the 24th of November,” he said.
In his opinion, Araud said, a “preferred scenario would be to prolong” the interim agreement for three or six additional months of negotiations while sanctions remain as they are. Iran is negotiating with France, the U.S., the U.K., Russia, China and Germany.
The Obama administration may be ready to consider an extension, Araud predicted, “but the question is the Congress.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is among the groups that say Iran can’t be trusted in any negotiation, has said it will go to the U.S. Congress the day after the Nov. 24 deadline passes with a demand for new sanctions, “very, very radical sanctions,” Araud said.
“If you add new sanctions, it will be very difficult for” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, “who also has radicals” in Iran who oppose any nuclear deal.
To get a deal, the Iranians must “understand that they have to make the painful concessions,” Araud said. No matter what Rouhani and his chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, may want to do, “there is only one person, which is the Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who can make that decision, Araud said.
U.S. and European Union sanctions curtailed Iran’s crude oil exports by about half since they went into effect July 2012, according to U.S. officials. The sanctions curbed Iran’s energy export revenue by 47 percent to $63 billion in the the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to a July 2014 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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