France the new 'Great Satan' for hard line at Iran nuclear talks
Published 11/11/2013 | 02:00
FRANCE was at the centre of a diplomatic storm yesterday after the French foreign minister was accused of sabotaging a deal with Iran which would end almost a decade-long standoff over the Iranian nuclear programme.
The most strident criticism came from Iran, where hardline press condemned the "disgraceful behaviour" of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at negotiations in Geneva.
There were suggestions in Iranian media that trade ties should be severed with France and the country should replace America as the "Great Satan".
But Mr Fabius was also criticised from diplomats within the six powers – known as the P5 + 1 – involved in the three-day negotiations with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, which wound up without agreement after midnight on Saturday. A new round of talks has been scheduled for November 20 and 21.
Foreign ministers from the UK, US, France, Russia and Germany, and a senior Chinese official, joined the negotiations on Saturday as an interim agreement appeared within reach.
But hopes of a deal were dashed after Mr Fabius revealed there remained differences, in particular over the freezing of the construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak in Iran.
It remained unclear yesterday whether Mr Fabius had clearance from his partners to speak publicly about the talks which were under wraps during the three-day negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, mobilised yesterday to prevent what he called a "bad agreement" after issuing a forceful pre-emptive complaint following talks in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State John Kerry, when the talks appeared to be making progress.
William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, struck an optimistic note, saying "a deal is on the table, and it can be done".
The deal under discussion would address Iran's demand for the easing of sanctions which have targeted its oil and banking sectors over its defiance of UN resolutions. In return the Iranian authorities would seek to address Western concerns by constraining its nuclear programme.
The P5+1 diplomats are working on an interim deal which would last six months, while a final agreement is worked out. France wants work at Arak to be halted during this period, while others see the plant as part of the final pact.
The momentum towards a settlement received impetus following the election in June of Iran's pro-reform President Hassan Rouhani, whose government has nevertheless continued to insist that Iran must retain the right to enrich uranium on its own soil. Iran says its nuclear programme is purely for civilian purposes.
The reactor, which is due to come online in the second half of next year, is now the focus of concern because plutonium from Arak would provide Iran with an alternative pathway towards building a bomb.
Mr Kerry, accused of giving away too much to Iran defended the Obama administration's strategy. "We are not blind, and I don't think we are stupid," he said.
Michael Adler, a scholar with US think tank the Woodrow Wilson Center, told UK media a delay in talks might threaten an eventual agreement. "Now the question is whether the matter can be settled quickly, or whether it will drag on, which is dangerous since hardliners on both sides could take steps which would sabotage an eventual agreement," he said. (©Independent News Service)