Talks To Continue as Leaks Contradict Israeli Claim on Iran Nuclear Plan

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif leaves his hotel on February 23, 2015 in Geneva after two days of negotiations with US Secretary of State John Kerry. AFP/Fabrice Coffrini.

Published Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The United States made some progress in talks with Iran on its nuclear program and managed to "sharpen up some of the tough issues," a senior US official said on Monday, but both sides said much remained to be done and the negotiations would continue next week.

Meanwhile, leaks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s secret service on Monday contradicted his claim in 2012 that Iran was less than a year away from making a nuclear bomb.

Negotiators from Iran and six major powers agreed to resume talks next Monday at a venue to be decided, the official said, speaking after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif held two-day talks in Geneva.

Zarif told Iran's Fars news agency: "We had serious talks with the P5+1 representatives and especially with the Americans in the past three days ... But still there is a long way to reach a final agreement."

As Kerry's plane touched down in Washington later on Monday, a senior State Department official said Kerry and Zarif would meet again next week and details were being worked out.

The P5+1 group — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — are seeking to negotiate an agreement with Tehran to address concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons technology, something it has repeatedly denied.

Meanwhile, Russia voiced confidence on Tuesday that world powers and Iran would be able to reach a comprehensive accord over Tehran's nuclear program by a June 30 final deadline.

Moscow's chief nuclear negotiator said after the latest round of talks between Kerry and Zarif in Geneva that tangible progress was being made.

"We are satisfied to see every new meeting achieve further progress," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

"There is a growing confidence that an agreement will be reached by the assigned deadline," Ryabkov said in the Swiss city.

Negotiators for Iran and six world powers had been meeting in Geneva since Friday in a bid to resolve the decade-long dispute.

Negotiators hope to meet a self-imposed deadline for an initial political deal, but the US official said that would not "make us rush to an agreement that does not fulfil the objectives that the president has given to us."

Diplomats say the six major powers aim for a deal lasting at least 10 years under which Iran would need a year or more to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear bomb, the so-called "breakout" capacity.

"We have always said we will have a one-year breakout time for a double digit number of years and that remains the case," the senior US official said on Monday.

Reflecting the technical nature of the latest talks, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iran's head of Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi took part. Helga Schmid, political director of the European Union's External Action Service, also attended.

The approaching deadline has caused divisions between the United States and one of its closest allies, Israel, which has called the talks "dangerous" and "astonishing." The United States has accused it of distorting Washington's position.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said in a statement on Monday: "The agreement with Iran as it is coming together now is a great danger to Western world peace and a threat to Israel's security."

Israel has the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal and has threatened to attack Iran if it is not satisfied over plans for Tehran's nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's claim that Iran was a year away from making a nuclear bomb was contradicted by his secret services, according to reports on Monday citing leaked documents.

The inconsistency was revealed in a cache of communications between South African intelligence services and their global partners — including Israel's Mossad and the US’ CIA — that were leaked to Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera and Britain's The Guardian daily.

In 2012 Netanyahu told world leaders at the United Nations that Iran could create a nuclear weapon within a year, brandishing a diagram in the form of a lit bomb to indicate the advanced state of Tehran's development effort.

He warned the world that unless Iran was stopped, as of mid-2013 it would only need "a few months, or even a few weeks" of additional uranium enrichment activity to develop a bomb.

But weeks after the speech, Mossad shared a report with South African intelligence which concluded Iran was "not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons," according to The Guardian.

The discrepancy, the paper said, "highlights the gulf between the public claims and rhetoric of top Israeli politicians and the assessments of Israel's military and intelligence establishment."

Iran currently has about 19,000 centrifuges. About 10,200 centrifuges are in operation, used for spinning uranium gas at supersonic speeds to make it suitable for power generation and medical uses.

The US wants Tehran to reduce its total number of centrifuges to between 6,500 to 7,000. Under the 2013 interim deal, Iran has halted production of 20 percent highly enriched uranium and eliminated or diluted much of its stock down to just five percent.

Negotiators now seek to enshrine that agreement and cut Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas. Iran wants all sanctions, imposed by the US, EU and UN, lifted.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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