The United States and Iran completed another round of talks in Switzerland on Wednesday, within the framework of ongoing attempts to reach a deal on the latter's nuclear program.
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After the talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded to the speech made in Congress on Tuesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and said "simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan."
Kerry has been trying in recent days to reach an understanding with Iranian Foreigh Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on two primary issues – the amount of enriched uranium Iran will retain after the deal with the world powers is signed, as well as the pace at which sanctions in place on the Iranian republic will be rescinded.
The talks were also attended by Ernest Moniz , U.S. secretary of energy, as well as Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi, considered to be a confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Kerry and Zarif are scheduled to meet again in Geneva on March 15.
After three days of talks with his Iranian counterpart, Kerry noted that he does not know if the two nations can reach an agreement, noting that "it is certainly possible that we won't," adding, "it may be that Iran simply can't say yes to the type of deal that the international community requires."
Kerry said after the talks with Zarif that progress has been made, but that there are still significant gaps. Kerry noted that the goal of the negotiations isn’t to reach an agreement, but rather to reach the best agreement possible, one that could stand up to scrutiny. "We also want an agreement that is sustainable over time," said Kerry.
A senior U.S. official hinted during a press conference after the talks that the aspiration to forge a framework agreement by March 30, to be followed by a more comprehensive agreement by June 30, is no longer relevant. Rather, the American official noted that the new working goal is "reaching an understanding" with the Iranians that will turn into a comprehensive, specified agreement.
The official added that President Barack Obama will decide if there is a basis for continuing the talks in June, based on understandings that will be reached in the coming weeks.
Kerry left Switzerland for Riyadh, to meet with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and update him on the progress in the nuclear negotiations.
While in Saudi Arabia, Kerry will also meet with foreign ministers from six Gulf states and inform them of progress as well. On Saturday, Kerry will meet the French, British and German foreign ministers in Paris, in order to coordinate further dealings with the Iranians.
A senior U.S. official noted that the head of the American negotiating team, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, will hold a closed video conference with her Israeli counterparts in order to brief them on the results of negotiations.
Kerry also responded to Netanyahu's speech in Congress, and rejected most of the prime minister's claims. Kerry stressed that he does not intend to allow foreign or political elements to influence his opinion on the negotiations.
Kerry responded to Netanyahu's demand that Iran alter its subversive behavior in the region and cease terror activity throughout the world, by saying that the first and most important step is to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon.
Kerry rejected Netanyahu's contention that further sanctions on Iran would prompt the latter to abandon the nuclear infrastructure that it has been building over the years. He noted that sanctions hurt Iran enough to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table, but did not stop the Islamic Republic from developing its nuclear program, claiming that the only thing that managed to stall the program was the interim agreement reached in November 2013.
"In my speech to Congress," Netanyahu said, "I offered a practical alternative. My alternative will, on the one hand, extend by years Iran's nuclear weapon break-out time, should it decide to violate the agreement, by putting in place more stringent limitation. The alternative that I put forward to Congress also proposes that sanctions against Iran not be lifted automatically until such time as it stops spreading terrorism across the globe, stops its aggression against its neighbors and stop threatening to destroy Israel."
Asked about reactions to his speech, Netanyahu insisted that he was "encouraged" by the response from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. "I got the impression," Netanyahu said, "that they now better understand why this is a bad deal and what the proper alternative is."