30 Mar 2015

Iran nuclear talks: another 36 hours to make harmony

“Diplomacy is like jazz – endless variations on a theme,” said the late US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke.

Here in Lausanne, where diplomats from Iran are negotiating with their counterparts from the EU, US, Russia and China, the same themes certainly recur. How long will a nuclear agreement last? When will sanctions against Iran be lifted? And what happens if Iran violates the deal?

Round and round they go, each side occasionally emerging to play their music out loud in front of assembled journalists. Last night Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, did an interview on state TV in front of scores of reporters, putting out the line that Iran had not agreed to export its stockpiles of nuclear material, an issue we had thought resolved.

So back it comes, another detail to be played through until they find a variation that all can agree is final.

Today the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov (pictured above, left foreground), left Lausanne, making it clear that no agreement can be signed today.

Technical teams are meeting, led by the famously long-haired US energy secretary and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz and the Iranian negotiator Ali Akbar Salehi, also an MIT graduate and previously Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

They have agreed on issues that once seemed impossible, such as how many centrifuges the Iranians will be allowed to spin. But key difference remain:

– Iran has agreed to limit its nuclear research and development for 10 years. The other side wants curbs to continue for 15 years.

– The US and allies say UN sanctions will be lifted in stages, as Iran complies with the agreement, but Iran wants all six UN sanctions resolutions lifted immediately.

– The Americans say that if Iran is found to have violated the deal, sanctions should be automatically re-imposed. The Chinese, Russians and possibly the French prefer to vote again – so that’s discord within one side of the negotiations.

The US has imposed a deadline of midnight March 31st. They have 36 hours to make harmony.

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