Iran and the six world powers embarked Tuesday, April 8, on two days of negotiations in Vienna for a final and comprehensive nuclear accord, with both the US and Iran resolved start drafting the document for resolving the long-running dispute in mid-May. DEBKAfile reports that in its haste for progress, the Obama administration has set aside consideration of the Iranian nuclear program’s military dimensions. As a senior Israeli security official put it: “The Americans are ready to take Tehran’s assurance that its program is purely peaceful at face value.”
Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday, April 7 in a brief comment that what concerns Israel is that the negotiations have not so far addressed Iran’s nuclear weapons program or delivery systems – a reference its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
DEBKAfile’s sources note that “concern” was an understatement of Ya’alon’s views following his falling-out with Washington for his outspoken remarks on US policies both on Iran and the Middle East peace process.
His comment also paled compared with the sharp exchanges between Israel’s defense chiefs and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, during his three-day visit last week. Those exchanges brought to the surface the profound US-Israeli differences on the state of Iran’s nuclear program and the scope of its threat.
When he visited Riyadh on March 28, President Barack Obama tried to reassure Saudi King Abdullah that “the United States would not accept a bad nuclear deal with Iran.”
Gen. Dempsey too sought to allay Israel’s fears about the final nuclear accord under discussion between the six world powers and Iran.
Neither Riyadh nor Jerusalem was convinced. They agreed to couch their rift with Washington diplomatically as “tactical differences.” But the Saudis and Israelis also agreed to continue working together on the Iranian nuclear question.
No sooner had Obama departed Riyadh and Dempsey Jerusalem, than a US spokesman issued an upbeat statement that no second interim nuclear accord would be necessary after the one signed last November, and there was no bar to getting down to drafting the final accord document and have it ready for signing by July 20.
This optimism seemed to have no visible rationale, but the Iranians saw their chance of a fast deal for major sanctions relief.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif endorsed this tight timetable when he arrived in Vienna Tuesday: “We will finish all discussions and issues this time,” he said, “to pave the ground for starting to draft the final draft in Ordibehesht (an Iranian month that begins in two weeks).”
Washington also brushed aside the warning heard form Russia’s senior negotiator Sergey Ryabkov that Moscow might “take the path of counter-measures” on Iran if pushed too far on Ukraine. On arrival in Vienna, he said stiffly that Russia not involved in the Iran talks “to please the Americans or Iranians” but because it “meets the national interest” to find a solution. But, he added, Russia has no special expectations from this round of talks.
The standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine cast a heavy cloud over the Vienna meeting. But Washington refused to be put off its diplomatic stroke by this impasse, or even the mammoth $50 billion barter deal Moscow and Iran are near closing for Iran to sell Russian 550,000 barrels of oil per day in lieu of various Russian goods, including foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals.
US spokesmen first denied knowledge of this transaction, which once it goes through will undermine the sanctions and oil embargo the US and Europe have imposed on Iran as a lever to curtail its nuclear weapons drive. Then, on Tuesday, Western sources at the Vienna session said it was not feasible because Russia and Iran had no direct pipeline connections across the Caspian Sea.
However, DEBKAfile’s sources mooted another option: Moscow could leave the oil it procures in Iran as a strategic Russian reserve, available for resale to a third party.
The opening session in Vienna saw US and Iranian positions far apart on the key issue of the quantity of low-grade enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to produce. The Americans want this quantity curtailed to prevent Iran stockpiling sufficient material for a short hop to weapons-grade for a nuclear bomb. Iran maintains its right to enrichment as endorsed in the interim accord concluded with the six powers last November.
Our military sources say that the argument is irrelevant, because it does not take into account the low- and high-grade enriched uranium the Iranians are keeping concealed as part of their military program.