White House: Time for Iran Nuclear Deal Running Out

Russia sounds optimistic messages over talks after signing deal Tuesday to build two nuclear electric power stations in Iran.

AFP

President Barack Obama’s senior adviser on Middle Eastern Affairs, Philip Gordon, said Tuesday that failure to reach a permanent agreement with Iran by the end of the talks on November 24, will “dramatically reduce” the chances of reaching an agreement later.

Speaking on a Jewish Telegraphic Agency panel at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Gordon also said, without elaborating: “There are gaps because they are trying to preserve some things that we are simply not prepared to accommodate.”

However, Gordon added that “It is not however impossible to close those gaps. What we are focused on is getting it done by November 24 — anything after that dramatically reduces the chances for a deal.”

Gordon also said that the United States was sympathetic to Israel's demand that Iran completely dismantle its nuclear program, but suggested that such a request was unrealistic.

If the United States had demanded a stance of zero centrifuges in Iran, said Gordon, the Iranian would likely have abandoned the negotiating table altogether, renewed their enrichment levels to 20 percent, installed more centrifuges and pushed toward breakthrough on creating a nuclear weapon.

The United States would have been left with only bad options in the case, Gordon said: "We would have had to use military force which has all sorts of other consequences and would only set the program back a certain amount of time.”

Instead, Gordon said, with increased inspections, the dismantling of a plutonium reactor and the substantive reduction of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity, the United States hopes to expand Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon to a year, thus giving the United States more time to stop it.

Three days of intensive talks took place between Iran and the international powers in the Omani capital of Muscat this week. The summit began with two days of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

On Tuesday, an additional round of talks took place between senior diplomats on the Iranian team and those of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The talks are expected to resume in Vienna on November 18.

Kerry called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu overnight Monday after the nuclear summit to update him on the talks' progress and the summit's results.

"The talks were tough, direct and serious," senior American officials told reporters on Kerry's plane en route to China. "There's still work ahead."

The Iranian side has also relayed messages showing no significant progress has been achieved in the Oman summit. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abas Arakji, who head the negotiating team, told the English language Iranian state TV station that the “negotiations in the past two days and discussions were very useful. But we are not still in a position to say that we have made progress."

He said the sides are now “working on solutions” and hope a deal can be reached.

Meanwhile, Russia sounded optimistic messages over the talks, after signing an agreement Tuesday to build two nuclear electric power stations in Iran. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, who heads his country’s representation to the talks, told reporters on the margins of the conference that the sides had not yet reached a dead-end.

Ryabkov said the talks held over the past few days had achieved progress with regard to the heavy water reactor at Arak, and the future of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, as well as the underground fortified uranium enrichment facility at Fardo.

The main disagreement, Ryabkov said, was over the date for lifting international sanctions against Iran. The powers are prepared the lift sanctions gradually, while Iran wants them lifted immediately.

Contrary to Gordon, Ryabkov said that there was a chance the talks could be extended beyond November 24. If an agreement was not reached by the date, Ryabkov said, an alternative solution could found to keep the chances for a deal alive. He did not provide any details.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, issued strong criticism of the negotiations between the world powers and Iran. Speaking by satellite link to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Netanyahu said Iran should be treated as an enemy and not as a partner, in an apparent appeal to the American public over the head of the White House.

Netanyahu said the international community was about to reach an agreement that would leave Iran’s nuclear program “largely intact.” He added that the alternative to a bad agreement with Iran was not war, but rather further and stronger sanctions.