Israeli Delegation Heads to France Ahead of Final Round of Iran Nuclear Talks

The Israeli delegation's trip is a last-ditch effort to influence the understandings taking shape between Iran and world powers; France holds toughest view on deal.

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British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, center, flanked by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, London, March 21, 2015. Credit: AP

A senior Israeli delegation traveled to Paris Sunday afternoon to discuss the nuclear deal coming together between Iran and world powers. The meeting between Israeli and French officials is set for Monday, two days before the final, decisive round of nuclear talks gets underway in Switzerland, where the sides will try to determine a framework for continuing the nuclear talks.

The Israeli delegation includes National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and other senior figures in the Foreign Ministry and intelligence community. They are expected to meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and members of the French negotiating team taking part in the Iran talks, led by French Foreign Ministry political director for Iranian affairs, Nicolas de Riviere.

The Israeli delegation's trip is a last-ditch effort to influence the understandings taking shape between Iran and the P5+1 – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. They are meeting with French officials because they hold the toughest stance vis-a-vis Iran. The Israelis believe they can improve the developing agreement by persuading the French to improve it.

In the last round of talks between Iran and world powers in Lausanne, Switzerland, significant differences emerged between the positions of France and the U.S. that made progress in the talks difficult.

France called for Iran to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency's demand that it disclose information about the possible military nature of its nuclear program as a condition for any agreement with world powers. The UN watchdog suspects that Iran tested a long-range missile that can carry a nuclear warhead several years ago and also tested nuclear detonation mechanisms.

In light of the differences between France and the U.S., the foreign ministers of those countries met in London with their British and German counterparts on Saturday in an effort to reach united position. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande also discussed the subject by telephone.

Minister Yuval Steinitz.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The final round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers opens Wednesday in Lausanne, a week before the March 31 deadline set to reach a framework agreement for a nuclear deal. If the sides come to an agreement, the talks will continue through June in an attempt to finalize a comprehensive deal.

The Iranian foreign minister and U.S. secretary of state are expected to attend the last round of negotiations, and the other foreign ministers may attend as well.

Despite progress made, gaps remain between the two sides' positions and it remains unclear whether a framework agreement will be possible by the end of the month.

French officials say that the March 31 deadline is an unofficial date that was raised by the Americans due to political pressure from Congress, which is threatening to impose additional sanctions against Iran. They said they told the Americans that, as far as they are concerned, the end of June is the decisive timeframe.

France also opposes quickly lifting the international sanctions on Iran, particularly those imposed by the UN Security Council. Foreign Minister Fabius even called his delegation at the end of the last rounds of talks and demanded they not accept any deal that provides immediate sanctions relief. France believes that removing some of the sanctions too quickly would diminish the leverage world powers hold over Iran to fulfill its part of the deal.

The disagreement between the U.S. and France also relates to the duration of the agreement between world powers and Iran, with the former willing to accept a 10-year deal to curb the Iranian nuclear program. The French want a deal to be in effect for a minimum of 15 years.

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