U.S., Israel Vow 'No Surprises' Policy on Iran Nuke Talks

As part of understanding, Israel briefed in advance of U.S. plan to hold direct talks with Iran in Geneva this week.

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 Rohani makes an address in front of portraits of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, and Ayatollah Khomeini, right. Near Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
Rohani makes an address in front of portraits of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, and Ayatollah Khomeini, right. Near Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 3, 2014.Credit: AP

A senior Israeli official has said that Israel and the United States have an understanding which calls for a policy of “no surprises” in the framework of current negotiations between Iran and the six powers, being held in an attempt to reach a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. As part of this understanding, the U.S. briefed Israel in advance of its plan to hold direct bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva this week.

Last week, American Deputy Secretary of State William Burns spoke with Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, updating him on U.S. intentions to hold these direct talks, outside the formal negotiating framework between Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Burns, who headed an earlier secret channel of discussions with Iran, led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Geneva Monday and Tuesday. A similar message was delivered to senior Israeli officials last week by Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who heads the U.S. delegation at the multilateral talks.

The senior Israeli official said that when the talks on the final agreement with Iran began last February, the U.S. committed to maintaining total transparency with regards to its contacts with Iran over its nuclear program, undertaking to constantly coordinate its positions with Israel. Reaching such an understanding was required since Israel felt that the U.S. had deliberately concealed from Israel its secret channel of discussions with Iran, which began in early 2013. These talks were mediated by the Sultan of Oman.

U.S. President Barack Obama only informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of these talks at their White House meeting in September 2013, months after they had commenced. Israel knew of these talks from its own intelligence sources, and was angry with the U.S. for conducting them behind its back.

A senior U.S. administration official said that “we coordinated with all our partners before the bilateral meeting, including with Israel and other partners in the region.”

These bilateral talks ended on Tuesday evening. Iran’s deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, Abbas Araghchi, who led the Iranian delegation, said that the talks were positive and that he hoped that at the fifth round of talks with the six powers, slated to begin in Vienna on June 16, it will be possible to move on from generalities to the formulation of the draft of a final agreement.

Despite the optimism projected by the Iranian senior official, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was much more pessimistic in his assessment of the chances of reaching a breakthrough. In an interview he gave to Radio France Internationale on Tuesday, Fabius revealed the huge gap between the six powers and Iran over its future uranium enrichment capabilities.

“We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point, which is the number of centrifuges that allow enrichment. We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want hundreds of thousands so we’re not in the same framework. Why do you want hundreds of thousands of centrifuges if you do not want the bomb?” the French foreign minister said.

A senior official in Jerusalem expressed the satisfaction felt in Jerusalem over the fact that the U.S. and the other powers are maintaining a tough stance and making assertive demands of Iran with regard to uranium enrichment. “The Americans have clarified to the Iranians that in the absence of significant concessions on the uranium enrichment issue there will be no agreement,” he said.

Israel has told the U.S. and the other partners to the negotiations that it has no objection to extending the talks by a few months if this is required in order to reach a better deal. Steinitz told senior officials from the U.S., Britain and France that Israel prefers such an extension over a rush to reach an agreement by July 20, the deadline set for finalizing the agreement.

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