Days Before Deadline, Iran Backtracks on Willingness to Allow Inspectors Into Army Bases

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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses Iranian top officials in a mosque at his residence in Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2015.Credit: AP

Iran last week backtracked on its willingness to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors managed access to suspicious installations and military bases, an Israeli official who is familiar with the details of the negotiations between Iran and the six world powers on a nuclear agreement told Haaretz. Iran’s tougher stance on monitoring and verification has become the most difficult issue to solve in the five days before the June 30th deadline.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted Wednesday that Israel may attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, even if Tehran and the powers nail down the deal.

“Whatever happens, Israel will always defend itself, and the Air Force plays a major role in this,” Netanyahu said at a pilots’ course graduation ceremony.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will head for Vienna on Friday to take part in the final phase of the talks. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia are also due to join the talks over the weekend, in a push to secure a final deal by June 30.

 A senior American official said Wednesday in a press briefing that few days’ extension on the deadline might be needed. The official noted the gaps on the monitoring issue and the time frame for the lifting of sanctions.

Israeli officials and Western diplomats said that the dispute over monitoring and verification could blow up the talks entirely. A Western diplomat involved in the details of the talks said: "It’s fair to say the supreme leader put forth a hardline position on access in his recent speech. This is one of the toughest – if not the toughest issue – being negotiated. And if they backtrack from where they were in Lausanne, we won’t have a deal.”

In the framework agreement concluded between the parties in Lausanne, Switzerland in April, the Iranians expressed willingness to allow IAEA inspectors access to declared and undeclared nuclear facilities anywhere in the country to investigate suspicions or accusations that secret uranium enrichment or development was underway.

A senior Israeli official familiar with the details of the talks said that in the past six weeks since the framework agreement was signed, no solution had been found for the issue of monitoring and verification. The powers want Iran to allow access on short notice to bases both of the military and the Revolutionary Guards, where Iran is suspected of having experimented with components that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The Iranians refused such access adamantly, but at a certain point in the talks in recent months they raised a formulation by which thee would give “managed access” to UN inspectors to army bases and other suspect facilities. However the Iranians made clear that “managed access” did not mean they could enter freely but rather only that they could take soil samples from the area of the facilities. The Iranians also demanded 24 hours’ notice of any such visits.

The Israeli official said that last week the Iranians backtracked even on this compromise, which they had already told the representatives of the world powers that they agreed to. In a speech by Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei Tuesday, he said Iran would not allow “unconventional inspection, visits to army bases or questioning of Iranian scientists.”

Reuters reported Wednesday that Kerry had phoned his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and said that remarks he had made had been misinterpreted and that the United States was still demanding that Iran reveal possible military aspects of its nuclear plan and the comprehensive agreement had to resolve this.

Last week Kerry surprised some officials by saying the United States was “not fixated” on the demand that Iran disclose full details of the possible military aspects of its nuclear program. Kerry said the United States did not need to know what Iran had done in the past, only what it was going to do in the future. His remarks seemed to indicate that the United States had given up on one of the demands the world powers had required in the Lausanne framework agreement.

Speaking at the pilots' graduation, Netanyahu expressed concern over the agreement being drafted with Iran and said again that the closer June 30 approaches, the greater the powers' concessions to Iran.

"These concessions are increasing Iran's appetite and every day it raises the bar, with the intention of extorting more concessions," he said. “Even if Iran waives some of these demands in a few days, the powers' basic concession will be huge and it will be a clear withdrawal from red lines the powers had publicly set earlier," Netanyahu added.

Netanyahu said that the monitoring method powers are discussing with Iran is "full of holes" and will enable the Iranians to create a nuclear bomb less than 10 years after the agreement's signature. "It's still not too late [for the powers] to come to their senses, to insist on a good agreement and it's certainly not too late not to advance a bad agreement," he added.

"As world leaders always say, no agreement is better than a bad agreement."

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