Iran, P5+1 Talks Resume, as US Politicians Oppose Netanyahu Speech

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Published Thursday, January 29, 2015

Iranian officials will meet with European members of the P5+1 group in Istanbul on Thursday under the ongoing diplomatic effort to secure a deal over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

The meeting with British, French and German diplomats was announced by Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham during a weekly press briefing in Tehran on Wednesday.

The EU, which has chaired the P5+1 talks, said separately that its political director Helga Schmid would also attend.

However, a senior State Department official said there were no plans for the United States to participate in the Istanbul talks, which he said were part of the bilateral discussions between Iran and the EU.

Under an interim agreement, representatives of the P5+1 — United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — and Iran gave themselves until March 31 to reach a political deal. The two parties are seeking a comprehensive accord by a June 30 deadline.

Two such deadlines were missed last year and both sides have admitted that big differences remain on the hard detail of what the final pact would look like.

Afkham told reporters there could be meetings with P5+1 members at a security conference in Munich next month, where Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif is already scheduled to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Zarif meanwhile was quoted by an Iranian newspaper on Wednesday as saying there was a "general agreement that Iran could have a nuclear enrichment program, no sites will be closed and sanctions should be lifted."

"But the discussions are continuing on the level of enrichment, on when Iran will begin industrial scale enrichment and how nuclear research and development will be done," he told Etemad daily.

Under an interim deal, Iran's stock of fissile material has been diluted from 20 percent enriched uranium to five percent in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Tehran insists its nuclear program is for domestic energy production and that it needs to increase its enrichment capacity to make fuel for a fleet of power reactors that it has yet to build.

Netanyahu’s Speech to US Congress

Meanwhile, US politicians have criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled speech to the US Congress in March, which could damage the administration of President Barack Obama administration's attempts to broker a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

"Such a presentation could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance," said Representative Nancy Pelosi during a news conference on Wednesday.

But Pelosi stopped short of saying that the invitation to Netanyahu should be withdrawn by US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner, a Republican, invited the Israeli prime minister to address Congress without informing the White House or congressional Democrats. A meeting so close to Israel's March 17 legislative election could be seen as helping Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's trip comes amid delicate negotiations between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program. Some US lawmakers, Democratic and Republican, have embraced Israel's skepticism on the talks and want to impose additional economic sanctions on Tehran.

Netanyahu, whose relations with Obama are strained, has defended his planned speech as a moral obligation and a strategic necessity. He said on Sunday his priority was to urge the United States and other powers not to negotiate an Iranian nuclear deal that might endanger Israel.

On Wednesday, Obama said he declined to meet with Netanyahu during his visit to the United States in March because it would be "inappropriate" two weeks before an election in that country.

"I'm declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is we don't meet with any world leader two weeks before their election," Obama said.

The Obama administration has also said negotiations are crucial to maintaining pressure on Tehran and hopefully achieve a breakthrough by the end of June.

"For us to undermine diplomacy at this critical time for no good reason is a mistake," Obama stressed.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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