World

'Spoiler alert' for Iran nuclear pact

Simon Tisdall

Negotiators say a deal over the country's nuclear ambitions is at hand, but trust issues remain.

Talks with Iran at UN headquarters in Vienna in April sought to unpick the international nuclear knot. (AFP)

So-called “spoilers” and “dark forces” are attempting to wreck efforts to clinch a historic compromise between Iran and the West on the country’s controversial nuclear programme, senior members of Iran’s negotiating team have said.

Seyed Abbas Araqchi, deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, said Iran remained “hopeful” a comprehensive agreement could be reached by the July 20 deadline. But Araqchi, a key player in Iran’s three-person negotiating team, warned that pitfalls remained, including a chronic lack of trust between the United States and Iran, technical issues and outside attempts to derail the process.

“There are spoilers everywhere who don’t want an agreement, there are dark forces who don’t like this process ... It is clear some people don’t want to resolve this issue in a peaceful and logical way,” Araqchi said. “They don’t want the sanctions on Iran to end. They don’t want Iran to be a major player in this region, although in fact it already is.”

Araqchi did not refer to any country by name but his remarks seemed aimed at the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which believes Iran is intent on covertly developing nuclear weapons capability – a claim Iran firmly denies. Netanyahu has been highly critical of the P5+1 (the five United Nations Security Council permanent members plus Germany) talks with Iran.

Araqchi noted that right-wing Republicans in the US Congress had opposed an interim agreement reached in Geneva last November, which afforded Iran limited sanctions relief in return for slowing its nuclear programme. Congress must approve any final deal.

Under fire
But he also conceded that he and the other negotiators were under fire within Iran itself, where hardliners have condemned earlier concessions.

The two other team members are Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and Majid Takht-Ravanchi, deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs.

“We feel supported by the majority of the society. The political structure of the country supports us as a whole. That does not mean there is not criticism.”

Araqchi said that the talks were going in the right direction. He added that the next top-level round of talks, due to commence in Vienna on May 13, would be the most difficult part so far, because the parties had agreed to start trying to produce a written draft of a final agreement. The complex technical issues were all linked, he said. It was understood that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.

“We could get 95% agreement and the last 5% could ruin everything.”

‘Not optimistic’
He said Iran’s centrist president, Hassan Rouhani, was keen for a deal to end sanctions but the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, a religious conservative, was “not optimistic” that agreement could be reached.

Iranian insiders say that although Araqchi has the ear of the supreme leader and Zarif is Rouhani’s right-hand man, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, the third member of the team, is the brains behind the Iranian operation.

Speaking to the Guardian, Ravanchi said: “I am not pessimistic regarding a deal. We are doing our best to finish the job before 20 July.” It was impossible to say at this stage whether it would be necessary to extend the July deadline, but it was not ruled out, he said.

Iran has a responsibility to reassure domestic critics that a deal was in the nation’s best interests. For its part the Obama administration must ensure any agreement was fully implemented, including obtaining congressional approval.

“All the sanctions must be lifted if we are to have an agreement,” Ravanchi said. “It is up to them [the Americans and Europeans] to do their homework.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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