U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the EU’s envoy to the nuclear negotiations, Catherine Ashton, will hold a tripartite summit next Sunday in Muscat, Oman, in an attempt to make a breakthrough leading to a permanent agreement on the Iranian nuclear program by the official deadline of November 24.
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The previous rounds of negotiations between Iran and the world powers in the last year were all held in Geneva or Vienna, but, irregularly, this summit will be held in Oman. Sultan Qaboos of Oman previously hosted the secret talks between the United States and Iran that led to the resumption of official talks and the breakthrough that brought about the interim deal, after which Iran froze major parts of its nuclear program.
The tripartite summit in Oman will last two days, on November 9-10. Michael Mann, Ashton’s spokesman, said that Ashton will meet in Vienna on Friday with the heads of the negotiating teams of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – for preparatory talks and coordination ahead of the summit.
About a week later, on November 18, the negotiating teams of all sides will meet for the home stretch of the talks, lasting until the November 24 deadline.
At this stage, there are still large gaps between the positions of Iran and the world powers, especially over how much uranium enrichment capability Iran will be allowed to retain after an agreement is signed. The Iranians are refusing to dismantle the 19,000 centrifuges they currently possess, while the world powers are willing to let Iran keep several thousand centrifuges. Even though all sides are trying to relay that they’re focused on reaching a deal by November 24, the negotiations are forecast to be extended by a few more months.
President Barack Obama, Kerry and the heads of the U.S. negotiating team put the chances of getting a deal by the 24th at 50:50. However, senior officials in the Obama administration are making every effort to close the gap with Iran.
One sign of the importance with which Obama is viewing the issue was the statement Obama’s National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes gave in a briefing for members of Congress several weeks ago. According to the conservative website The Washington Free Beacon, Rhodes said a deal with Iran is the most important foreign affairs issue for Obama in his second term. Rhodes added the issue is as important to Obama as health-care reform.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is very concerned with the negotiations and believes the direction in which the talks are progressing may lead to a “bad deal.” Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is tasked with keeping contact with the world powers over the issue, met with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond a week ago and relayed Israel’s concerns. Several days ago, Steinitz met in Jerusalem with the head of the French negotiating team, Nicolas de Riviere, and relayed the same message.
On Thursday, a high-level Israel delegation led by national security adviser Yossi Cohen arrived at the White House for diplomatic and security talks with senior American officials, focusing on the Iranian nuclear program. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the Americans stressed that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons. According to her, the Americans briefed the Israeli delegation about the progress in the talks with Iran.