Sunday 17 December 2017

US and Iran shake hands after 34 years of hate

David Blair

Downstairs in the lobby, glamorous blondes arrived for a charity party. Upstairs, in the conference rooms, seven exhausted men and one woman were pulling the diplomatic version of an "all-nighter" as they struggled to resolve the most dangerous looming crisis in the Middle East.

Negotiations over war and peace mingled with normal life at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, where the meeting on Iran's nuclear programme provided five days of drama.

But at 3am yesterday there was a happy ending when the negotiators surprised almost everyone by announcing a momentous agreement. For the first time since they severed diplomatic ties 34 years ago, America and Iran joined hands to make a formal agreement.

Yesterday's agreement emerged from five days of bargaining. The offer was simple: America would refrain from imposing more sanctions – and ease the burden of current measures – if Iran halted the essential elements of its nuclear programme.

The talks began last Wednesday when Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, landed in Geneva to meet officials from the "P5 plus 1" contact group, consisting of the Security Council's five permanent members – America, Britain, France, Russia and China – along with Germany.

At the centre of everything was Catherine Ashton, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, who chairs the "P5 plus 1".

Last Friday – supposedly the meeting's last day – she faced a difficult choice. With two key issues still unresolved, Ms Ashton had to decide between declaring failure, extending the talks, or calling in US Secretary of State John Kerry and the other "P5 plus 1" foreign ministers to break the deadlock.

She chose the latter option. Then followed almost 18 hours of bargaining, with Ms Ashton moving constantly from negotiating with the Iranians to briefing the ministers. Most importantly, she chaired at least two trilateral meetings with Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif.

As dawn approached yesterday, a breakthrough was made. The parties gathered for a brief ceremony. Ms Ashton received kisses from every minister except Mr Zarif, restrained by Islamic tradition, who instead raised his clasped hands in a gesture of thanks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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