(CNSNews.com) – As a focus of the Iran nuclear negotiations moves to Capitol Hill this week, Iran’s foreign minister has taken to Twitter to dispute Secretary of State John Kerry’s account of why the talks in Geneva ended without agreement this past weekend.
Since Sunday Kerry has taken issue with multiple reports saying that French unease about elements of a draft agreement proposed by the “P5+1” – the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany – was behind the failure to close an interim deal with Iran.
Though constrained by the parties’ pledges not to make public details of the negotiations, Kerry is eager to underline that the P5+1 were in accord in Geneva.
At a press appearance Monday during a stopover in Abu Dhabi before flying home, he made the point again.
It was “just not correct,” Kerry said, that there had been “some sort of lack of agreement among the P5+1.”
He said all six countries had been “united” in the proposal put to Iran on Saturday, and that “the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, everybody agreed this was a fair proposal.”
It was the Iranians, he continued, who “weren’t able to accept that particular agreement.”
But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif, who led his country’s negotiating team in Geneva, then fired off two Twitter messages challenging Kerry’s version.
“No amount of spinning can change what happened within 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thursday to 5:45 PM Saturday. But it can further erode confidence,” he said.
“Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of U.S. draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?” Zarif asked, apparently alluding to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Fabius said in a radio interview Monday that agreement was not far off, but that the draft text had contained “two or three points that are still problematic.” He did not elaborate.
Possibility of future enrichment ‘subject to the negotiation’
In line with vows of secrecy by the negotiating partners, the actual wording of the draft has not been released.
However, one thing Iran has insisted on throughout has been recognition of its “right” under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium on its own soil. It has been widely reported that inclusion of a reference to this “right” in the preamble of the draft agreement was a key sticking point in Geneva.
In yet another Twitter message on Monday – this one re-tweeted by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani – Zarif stated that the draft “doesn’t include giving up Iran rights.”
Appearing with Kerry in Abu Dhabi, Emirati Foreign Minister Abdallah bin Zayid was asked whether the UAE would support a deal that granted Iran the right to enrich uranium at home.
Like their Saudi neighbors, the Emiratis are deeply suspicious of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The UAE is developing its own nuclear energy program in consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but unlike Iran it has resolved to forgo domestic enrichment and reprocessing. It will instead enter agreements with other countries for nuclear fuel supplies. At least 18 other countries similarly have nuclear energy programs without domestic enrichment.
Responding to the question about future Iranian enrichment, Abdallah said, “We believe that the UAE nuclear program is the standard according to which regional countries should abide.”
With such an approach, he said, “there is no fear [of proliferation]. Everybody benefits.”
“So if we can see such an approach spread in the region, I’m sure this fear will not be there.”
Kerry also commented on the issue, noting, as other administration officials have done, that the NPT does not grant any country a “right to enrich.”
But he added that the NPT does not exclude such a right either.
“The NPT does not grant a right and it does not prohibit a right. Therefore, whatever might or might not happen in the future is subject to the negotiation and subject to what is possible in terms of limits, scope, verification, complete and total transparency and accountability for what might or might not happen,” Kerry continued. “We don’t know yet what those possibilities are.”
Those remarks were one of the clearest public indications yet that the administration is not ruling out the possibility that an agreement could allow Iran to continue enriching uranium at home in the future.
Because of suspicions of the real agenda behind Iran’s nuclear activities, no fewer than six U.N. Security Council resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010 demanded that it suspend “all” enrichment-related activities – resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008) and 1929 (2010).
‘All enrichment should be ceased’
Later this week, Kerry is expected to brief the Senate Banking Committee on the Iran negotiations. The committee is sitting on tough sanctions legislation which the administration has urged senators not to advance, in order to give diplomacy a chance.
The legislation, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), passed in the House last summer with strong bipartisan support.
Royce expressed concern this week about the administration’s approach to the negotiations, and has scheduled a committee hearing for Wednesday to examine the matter.
“Instead of toughening sanctions to get meaningful and lasting concessions, the Obama administration looks to be settling for interim and reversible steps,” he said in a statement.
“A partial freeze of enrichment, as we’re hearing, is not a freeze. As called for in U.N. Security Council resolutions, all of Iran’s enrichment – the key bomb-making technology – should be ceased.
“We now run the risk of seriously weakening the sanctions structure painstakingly built-up against Iran over years,” Royce said. “Once weakened, it will be harder to ratchet up the economic pressure on Iran than it will be for the Iranians to ratchet up their nuclear program.”