3rd Aug 2020

Iran, EU and US voice optimism on nuclear deal

  • Dusk prayers in Esfahan, Iran: EU and US sanctions have made Iranian people poorer and harmed access to healthcare (Photo: EUobserver)

Iran's top diplomats have said they will begin drafting a written agreement on its nuclear programme with UN powers on Friday (8 November).

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Thursday, its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said: "Depending on what they put on paper with us, we can decide whether it's a major deal or a small step in the right direction. I hope it's more than a small step in the right direction, but I'll be happy if we move in the right direction."

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He added: "It is important … to start doing things in black and white and try to move forward with the text."

Its deputy foreign minister and lead negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, noted that the leading UN states had "clearly" accepted Iran's proposal for confidence building measures.

The EU and US also voiced optimism.

A spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told press on Thursday: "We are making progress."

A White House spokesman said that a breakthrough could see the EU and US "consider limited, targeted, and reversible [sanctions] relief."

Meanwhile, US secretary of state John Kerry changed travel plans to fly to Geneva on Friday in a further sign of diplomatic momentum.

Details of the draft deal are being kept hush hush.

But Araqchi noted that Iran will reserve the right to enrich uranium even if it agrees to alleviate concerns it is building a nuclear weapon.

If there is a deal, it will create an important change in Middle East politics and broader international relations.

Iran is a potential ally for the West in stabilising Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Pakistan and Syria.

It can help stem the flow of heroin from Afghanistan to Europe and it is a potential new market of 76 million people, with oil and gas wealth, for European exporters.

At the same time, it is the only Middle East power which poses a threat to US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia earlier said an Iran-US deal would spell a "major shift" in its friendship with the US.

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday the draft Geneva deal "would allow Iran to retain the capability to make nuclear weapons."

"Israel totally opposes these proposals. I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions," he added.

But for his part, Iran's Zarif noted that Netanyahu's rhetoric is nothing new.

"I don't think he's an authority on mistakes because he's been making mistakes for his entire life. He's been calling the Iranian programme six months away from a nuclear weapon since 1991," Zarif said.

EU and US warn Israel

In a region where every conflict is intimately connected, the EU and US on Thursday also spoke harshly of Israel.

Netanyahu this week agreed to build 1,859 new homes for Jewish settlers on Palestinian land in the middle of fragile peace talks with Palestine.

Ashton said the EU "deplores" the decision and called on Israel to "reverse" it for the sake of the peace process.

Kerry was even more outspoken.

He told Israel’s Channel 2 broadcaster in an interview: "How can you say that you’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? It sends a message that somehow perhaps you’re not really serious."

He warned that if peace talks collapse there is a risk of "return to violence" by Palestinian people.

He also said Israel's reputation is at stake.

"If we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimisation of Israel," the US diplomat noted.

EU court strikes down Iran sanctions

The EU second-highest court has deleted sanctions on seven Iranian firms and one man accused of collusion to make nuclear weapons.

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