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Omar Karmi

Kerry dismisses Netanyahu's bluster over Iran

The US is hoping to complete nuclear negotiations with Iran by July [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2015

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Analysis: The US secretary of state pointed out that the Israeli prime minister had not offered any alternative to continuing with nuclear negotiations.

He played both crowds.

Just a day after Binyamin Netanyahu's much-hyped speech to the US Congress, US Secretary of State John Kerry aimed a not-so-veiled barb in the Israeli prime minister's direction after wrapping up three days of talks with his Iranian counterpart in Switzerland.

But Kerry also made sure to contradict his own country's intelligence estimates as well as those of Israel's by suggesting that Iran was moving ahead with a nuclear weapons programme in spite of international sanctions and the ongoing negotiations with the P5+1 countries - the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.


     Simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan
- John Kerry, US secretary of state

The dual messages are no surprise.

Washington is clearly determined to pursue negotiations with Iran to the end. But the administration is also getting heat from its Arab allies, Republicans and powerful pro-Israel voices in the US, as well as, of course, the Israeli government.

In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu had delivered a broadside at the negotiations, suggesting that they were leading to "a bad deal" that would allow Iran to build nuclear weapons in ten years, if it waited, and a "potential nuclear nightmare" for planet Earth as a result.

It was a speech short on substance or alternatives, however, a point made late on Tuesday by Barack Obama, the US president, and now repeated by Kerry in Montreux.

"We aren't going to be distracted by external factors or politics," he told reporters after a total of more than ten hours of talks with his Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif.

Kerry became more direct: "So, folks simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan, and nor would any of our P5+1 partners support us in that position."

And in perhaps another signal to the Israeli government, while Kerry flew to Riyadh on Wednesday and is due to brief his P5+1 counterparts in London on Saturday, Tel Aviv will have to make do with US negotiator Wendy Sherman.

Still, Kerry also cautioned that Iran was moving ahead with its nuclear programme, contradicting both US and Israeli intelligence assessments that Iran had made no attempts to weaponise its enrichment since negotiations started in 2013.

"We know that absent a deal, Iran will have the ability to move ahead with its nuclear programme; that we know for sure because that's exactly what’s happened to date," said Kerry.

And both he and Zarif - Iran faces its own domestic opposition to any deal that would curb what Tehran has always insisted was a purely civilian energy programme - were keen to stress that much remained to be done.

"Time is running out," said Kerry.

Progress was made, agreed Zarif, but "we have a lot of work to do".

Iran and world powers are trying to put a framework agreement in place by the end of March. Such an accord would be followed by a comprehensive agreement to be completed by the end of June.

That the negotiations are tricky is in little doubt. But sanctions and low oil prices are hurting Iran's economy, providing Tehran with plenty of impetus to secure agreement.

And, with Netanyahu's congressional antics done and dusted and polls in the US still suggesting most Americans favour a negotiated agreement, the talks look certain to run their full course.

The New ArabComments

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