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Prospects for Iran talks look less likely

USA Today, October 14, 2013

Alireza Jafarzadeh, Foreign Affairs Analyst and Iran Expert provides input to the USA Today

American and European diplomats head into talks with Iran on Tuesday on its nuclear program amid signs that the Islamic republic may not be as flexible as some had hoped to end a standoff and possible military action by the West.

The White House and European leaders were enthusiastic this month when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to resume long-stalled talks after a telephone conversation with President Obama.

Though some analysts say there is room for optimism, a series of recent statements from Iran have clouded Rouhani’s rosy message that his country is ready to make concessions in talks in Geneva.

Iran’s negotiator has been pre-emptively rejecting ideas from the West to ensure Iran’s nuclear stockpiles are not converted to weaponry. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei contradicted Rouhani’s claims of flexibility in talks, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said Iran’s right to enrich uranium is “non-negotiable.”

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a group that has opposed broad sanctions against the Islamic regime and a military option against Iran’s nuclear program, said Monday that talks have the best chance at success since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran 31 years ago.

“Never before has the atmosphere been so optimistic,” Parsi said.

Colin Kahl, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East, said talks “could go really well, or things could deteriorate.”

The United States, Israel and others say Iran is working toward making an atomic bomb, and some estimates have them reaching that goal within months. Iran insists its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes, but it refuses to abide by its international pacts to allow inspectors to enter its facilities and verify its intentions.

Sanctions imposed by the United States, Germany and others have harmed the Iranian economy, and Iran has demanded they be lifted.

Sunday, a senior Iran negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, announced that Iran will not ship its nuclear stockpile to another country as part of any deal.

“We will negotiate about the volume, levels and the methods of enrichment, but shipping out the (enriched) material is a red line for Iran,” Araqchi told a state-owned broadcaster, according to the Beirut-based news site Al Akhbar English.

Furthermore, Foreign Minister Zarif has made demands that could make compromise difficult. He announced recently that the United States and other world powers should produce new proposals for the nuclear talks. Past proposals made by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China – plus Germany, “belong to history, and they must enter talks with a new point of view,” Zarif said in an interview with Iranian state television. “The players must put away this illusion that they can impose anything on the Iranian people.”

Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed Zarif’s suggestion.

The Iranian newspaper Kayhan reported that Khamenei regarded Zarif’s one-on-one meeting with Kerry in New York recently and Rouhani’s phone call with Obama as “missteps.” The headline Tuesday pained Zarif so much it sent him to the hospital with a severe back spasm that radiated down his leg, according to his Facebook post.

Thursday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian dissident group that has exposed secret Iranian nuclear sites, reported that the Iranian military is moving a program devoted to weaponizing nuclear technology from a known site to a more secure and secretive military base in Tehran.

The existence of the program, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, was first reported by NCRI in early 2011. Some of its work was described by the International Atomic Energy Agency as “highly relevant to a nuclear weapons program,” in the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s November 2011 report.

NCRI, which seeks the downfall of Iran’s Islamic regime, had previously exposed secret nuclear facilities under construction in Natantz and under a mountain in Fordow, near the city of Qoms.

“The regime is anticipating they will be involved in sort of talks and at some point will have to open some doors somewhere,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, NCRI’s U.S. spokesman. “They want to move it away to a new location, so they can take the IAEA to the old site and show them there is nothing there. That would buy them time.”

Israel’s finance minister, Yair Lapid, was in the USA on Sunday to persuade Washington and the International Monetary Fund to strengthen the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Lapid argued that talks alone will not prevent Iran from getting a bomb..

Economic pressure should be accompanied with a real military threat to be most effective, he told USA TODAY.

“Syria is an analogy for Iran,” he said. “Diplomacy only happens when there’s a real valid military threat.”

Lapid said Iran should prove its program is peaceful by dismantling its centrifuges and plutonium reactor, programs that produce nuclear fuel that can be provided by other countries.

“If they do those two things, we should talk” about reducing sanctions, Lapid said. “If not, the sanctions should be toughened, and it will threaten the very existence of the regime itself.”