1 Apr 2015

The Rolex ticks at Iran nuclear talks

It was never going to be the Treaty of Lausanne. That was signed here in the elegant Belle Époque surroundings of the Beau Rivage hotel in 1923, when the victorious powers of WWI divided up the defeated Ottoman Empire.

The Iranians saw it as inauspicious for their nuclear compromise to be compared with the dismembering of the last Muslim imperial power.

Geneva, under UN auspices, was their choice but what about the date? With a deadline of midnight 31 March a new danger arose: the April Fool’s Agreement. Imagine the glee in the US Congress as right wing Republicans who oppose all dialogue with the Islamic Republic thundered their scorn in the House.

Chance would be a fine thing. Nearly a week after the start of these talks, the hope of a historic deal let alone anything approaching a treaty has receded. ‘Agreement’ was watered down to ‘Understanding’. As the diplomats negotiated into the early hours of this morning, even the word ‘framework’ looked contentious.


Diplomats hate to declare failure, especially the Americans and Iranians in Lausanne, all of whom want to be part of a historical move to mend relations between their two countries. More than that, their careers depend on it: if US Secretary of State John Kerry goes back to Washington with nothing it’s the end of his and President Obama’s chance of a foreign policy legacy.

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif knows if he returns to Tehran empty-handed, the hardliners who are itching to oust him and the reformist President Hassan Rouhani will be emboldened. In many ways, the diplomats here have more in common with each other than with those who oppose them back home.


And yet they remain unable to square the circle. They’re still stuck on how and when to lift sanctions and arrangements for Iran’s nuclear research and development.

The hope was a political deal here, followed by technical talks until the end of June, when the full package would be announced. Now we’re talking about an agreement to keep talking.

Some hours beyond the 11th we are contemplating a “press statement”. It might be accompanied by a press conference by Mr Zarif and the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini at the Rolex Learning Centre twenty minutes’ drive from here.

The Rolex Learning Centre Press Statement. It doesn’t quite have the ring of the Treaty of Lausanne. And the Americans haven’t even agreed it yet.

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