Iran Nuclear Deal Unlikely by March as Significant Gaps Remain, Official Says

Israeli official contradicts PM Netanyahu, who insists that an agreement between Tehran and world powers is imminent.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland Wed., Jan. 14, 2015.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland Wed., Jan. 14, 2015.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The gaps between Iran and the six world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program are significant and an agreement is unlikely to be sealed before March, an Israeli official with knowledge of the negotiations told reporters Monday.

“I don’t believe that an agreement will come at any price,” the official said at the press briefing. “No one can declare with any certainty that an agreement will be reached shortly. It’s hard to envision a scenario in which the negotiations, and all the surrounding technical and diplomatic complexities, conclude by the end of March.”

These statements sharply contrast with those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Monday, Netanyahu reiterated that “an agreement is currently being forged by Iran and the world powers.”

Netanyahu said the deal would be dangerous for Israel, the region and the world. “The forthcoming agreement is unacceptable for Israel, and we staunchly oppose it,” he said, during a visit to Israel Aerospace Industries.

At the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said a nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers was likely to be signed "in the coming weeks."

Netanyahu said such an agreement would leave Iran a threshold nuclear state, saying that was why he wanted to speak before the U.S. Congress to explain his position on the topic.

"Iran must not move on to atomic weapons," he said Sunday. "I am committed to making every effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons it will aim at Israel."

The senior official, meanwhile, said he did not believe that the world powers – the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain – were giving in. He said a deal hinged on decisions still to be made by Iran.

“There has yet to be a significant change among the Iranians regarding concessions that could bring them to an agreement,” he said. “We don’t see any strategic concessions being made by Khamenei” – Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the country’s supreme leader.

According to the information that has reached Jerusalem, the world powers and Iran aren’t making significant progress on any issue, notably Tehran's demand to immediately rescind all economic sanctions.

The official noted that the lack of progress could trigger a crisis, forcing Iran to agree to far better terms for the six powers and Israel.

“The combination of diplomatic and economic pressure increases the chances for better results,” he said. “More pressure applied to Iran won’t guarantee an agreement, but the failure to apply more pressure definitely guarantees that an agreement won’t be reached.”

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