World leaders are closing in on a historic deal with Iran
AFTER years of futile talks, accusations, recriminations and sanctions, the international community and Iran seem to be coming towards a deal over the country's contentious nuclear programme.
There was a sense of "seizing the moment" yesterday with the US, Britain, France and Germany sending their foreign ministers to Geneva. The Russians and the Chinese were not planning to attend, but indicated their backing for the plan it is hoped will emerge.
In broad terms, it is hoped that Iran will limit uranium enrichment, in return for easing of international sanctions which have begun to seriously damage its economy.
Tehran's chief negotiator, Abbas Aragchi, declared that the six international states which had been carrying out the negotiations had "clearly said that they accept the framework proposed by us" and all were "ready to start drafting" the agreement.
Israel and Saudi Arabia, two countries which regard Iran with deep and implacable suspicion, were caught by surprise. Both expressed their anger, the former publicly, the latter in private. In Jerusalem, Binyamin Netanyahu lashed out, saying, "Iran has got the deal of the century and the international community has got a very bad deal." The view, he added, was "shared by many, many in the region, whether or not they express it publicly".
By "many", the Israeli prime minister meant the Sunni Arab states, led by the Saudis, traditionally hostile to Shia Iran. US Secretary of State John Kerry had visited Riyadh before meeting Mr Netanyahu. According to senior diplomats Mr Kerry was left in no doubt by King Abdullah and foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal about their mistrust of Tehran's intentions.
The Saudis, according to one narrative, have taken out an insurance policy against Iran acquiring a nuclear arsenal. The account is without corroboration, but has taken on great resonance in some quarters. On 1 January 2013, it is claimed, Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and defence minister, visited Islamabad and commissioned Pakistan to build nuclear weapons for a multi-billion-dollar figure which can be transferred to the Kingdom at short notice if Tehran gets the bomb.
There are more immediate obstacles to a deal. On Thursday night, Barack Obama stated that a slight easing on sanctions may be possible, but Congress, where the Israeli lobby is influential, is in the process of introducing even tougher punitive measures.
An amendment being put forward would impose restrictions on the US administration on easing embargoes unless concessions were made by Iran far beyond what is being envisaged in Geneva. Republican senator Bob Corker said: "We're very concerned that in their desire to make any deal they may in fact do something that is very bad for our country."
The Iranian government may also have problems convincing hardliners to back the agreement. However, some western diplomats held that the sheer vehemence of Israel's opposition may be a selling point to Iran's security establishment. (© Independent News Service)