The six world powers negotiating with Iran are demanding that Tehran suspend construction of the heavy water reactor at Arak, which could in the future be used to manufacture plutonium for a nuclear weapon. A senior American official briefing reporters in Jerusalem said that the six powers were trying to ensure that work on Arak doesn’t advance.
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During the recent second round of talks with Iran in Geneva, the Americans made clear to Iran that they know of no use for a heavy water reactor in a peaceful nuclear power program. “The issue of the reactor at Arak is very important to all the powers, the senior U.S. official said. “Everyone is concerned about it. We want to put more time on the clock with regard to progress on the facility in Arak,” he said.
Israel views the reactor at Arak as an Iranian effort to establish another track to producing nuclear weapons, parallel to its uranium enrichment. The reactor is not expected to come on line until the end of 2014, but Israel suspects that when it does go into operation, the Iranians will use its by-products to build a plutonium-based nuclear weapon.
Sherman arrives in Jerusalem
Against the backdrop of mounting tensions between Israel and the United States over negotiations in Geneva, a high-level U.S. delegation arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday to report on the outcome of talks with Iran. The delegation is led by Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who is heading the U.S. negotiating team with Iran.
Sherman and her team met with the National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and senior officials in the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the intelligence community. She gave her Israeli counterparts a detailed report on the talks in Geneva with Iran and the gaps in positions that are preventing an agreement.
In conversations with senior Israeli officials on Sunday, members of the American delegation said that the easing of sanctions proposed in the framework of the emerging agreement were slight and would not bring about the collapse of the sanctions regime. The Americans believe that because the agreement involves suspending only some of the sanctions for only six months, this will not bring international firms streaming into Tehran to do business.
'Sanctions regime will remain in place'
Sherman and members of her delegation told their Israeli interlocutors that if an agreement with Iran is reached, the United States would launch diplomatic efforts to ensure that the significant sanctions remain in place.
Even if sanctions are eased, they will not be the key ones dealing with oil and banking and so pressure on Iran will only increase, the American official told reporters. “The sanctions under discussion – and it has not been agreed – are reversible and modest; the entire sanctions regime will not be changed until there is a comprehensive agreement. The Iranians would like it to be different, but it is not and they realize that,” the official said.
The official said that the negotiators in Geneva had not demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment, but they had demanded that it cease development of its nuclear program. “They will not add any more centrifuges; Arak will not move forward, they will not have a reserve of uranium enriched to 20 percent,” the official said.
According to the official, the reason an agreement had not been reached over the weekend was not due to French opposition, but rather to the Iranians’ desire to return to Tehran for consultations and that the six powers were all united behind the document that had been prepared on Saturday.
The official rejected criticism by Israeli government officials that the Americans were seeking an agreement at any price. “We put something on the table and the Iranians have not decided whether to take it or not. I hope they don’t miss an opportunity. In any case, we are in no hurry,” the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at a special cabinet meeting at Sde Boker in the Negev that in addition to speaking with President Barack Obama on Friday, he had also spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin and tried to persuade him not to sign the deal with Iran. Netanyahu is expected to visit Moscow on November 20, while the third round of talks with Iran will be underway in Geneva.
Netanyahu also spoke to French President Francois Hollande, whose country led opposition to the agreement with Iran, and who will be arriving in Israel on November 17, three days before the resumption of talks with Iran in Geneva. He also spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking them not to sign the agreement.
“I told them that according to the information Israel has, the emerging deal is bad and dangerous,” not only for us but for them. I proposed that they wait and think about it…We will do everything in our power to prevent the leaders from reaching a bad agreement,” Netanyahu said.