Obama: Iran Nuclear Deal May Not Be Reached by Deadline

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U.S. President Barack Obama. Credit: AFP

U.S. President Barack Obama said Sunday that there is still "a big gap" in nuclear negotiations with Iran. In an interview he gave to CBS, Obama said a permanent agreement may not be achieved before November 24.

Obama noted that his highest priority is to ensure that “Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons.” He refused to discuss the letter he sent a few weeks ago to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, but stressed that he clarified to the Iranians, both “publicly and through back channels,” that there would be no linkage between Iran’s nuclear program and the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).

Menawhile, a senior Iranian official said Sunday that Obama’s secret letter to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last month had a “positive impact on Iran’s leadership.”

In Tehran’s first public acknowledgment of the letter, in which Obama stated that a nuclear agreement with Iran could pave the way to U.S.-Iranian cooperation against Islamic State (ISIS), Ali Khoram, adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, told London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the letter had changed the Iranian leaders’ approach to the possibility of reaching a nuclear agreement.

“Despite 30 years of mistrust, Iran and the U.S. are convinced that it is in their national interests to negotiate a final settlement,” said Khoram. He said there has been a shift in Iran’s view of the United States as the “great Satan,” in light of changes in Iran’s policies towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and towards Syria and Iraq.

In the letter, Obama told Khamenei that their nations have shared interests in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but that any cooperation between Tehran and Washington on this issue would hinge upon reaching an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program by the November 24 deadline for the talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Summit begins in Oman

The interview with Obama was broadcast as a triple summit began in Muscat, Oman, between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif and the European Union’s Catherine Ashton, who leads the negotiations on behalf of the P5+1 powers. The three held two meetings lasting more than four hours each on the first day of the summit. No details were released. The talks were scheduled to resume today.

During the talks, Kerry and Ashton presented Zarif with a framework for a permanent resolution, which will be the topic of discussion over the next two weeks. The main disputes between the two sides concern three issues:

* The extent of uranium-enrichment facilities that will remain in Iran after the agreement is signed, particularly the number and type of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to keep. The Iranians refuse to give up the 19,000 they currently possess, while the world powers are only ready to let them keep 4000 to 5000.

* The timetable for lifting the sanctions now imposed on Iran. The Iranians want an immediate removal of all sanctions, while the P5+1 want a gradual removal lasting years, dependent on implementation of the agreement.

* The duration of the agreement and its expiry date. The powers want a treaty spanning 10-15 years, only after which a normalization of the international status of Iran’s nuclear program will take place, with the removal of its close supervision. The Iranians are talking of a 5- to 7-year period.

As the talks in Oman got underway, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting that Israel would not accept any agreement that left Iran as a threshold nuclear state. “The international community now faces a simple choice, of either yielding to Iran’s demands in a capitulation that endangers not only Israel but the entire world, or of standing firm in the demand that Iran disarm its capabilities for producing nuclear weapons,” said Netanyahu. “Israel will not accept a capitulation – it’s dangerous for all of us.”

Referring indirectly to Obama’s letter to Khamenei, the prime minister said, “Khamenei has been in the news lately. Only yesterday he called for our destruction. Iran’s words of moderation are contradicted by its actions. These include calls for our annihilation, the abrogation of human rights and reports from the International Atomic Commission that Iran continues to lie and deceive the world regarding its nuclear program. With such a regime we have to ensure that it cannot produce or obtain nuclear weapons”, he said.

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