France challenged Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday over a disputed element of the Iranian nuclear talks, asserting that it would not sign any pact unless Iran allowed all its nuclear installations, including military sites, to be inspected.
The French position was stated by the foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, just as negotiations reconvened in Vienna with the aim of reaching a final agreement by June 30.
France has taken the toughest public stand among the group of powers negotiating with Iran — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany.
Reports of friction have surfaced between French and American negotiators over concessions to Iran, with the French complaining privately about American pressure for flexibility when the sides were working out a preliminary framework, reached in April.
Graphic | The Iran Nuclear Deal’s Definition Depends on Who’s Talking American and Iranian officials are using different words to describe elements of the preliminary agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word for Iran on the nuclear negotiations, appeared to throw a new complication into the talks on May 20 when he rejected what he called arrogant demands for access to all Iranian nuclear sites.
“The impudent and brazen enemy expects that we allow them talk to our scientists and researchers about a fundamental local achievement, but no such permission will be allowed,” the ayatollah told military commanders in Tehran, in remarks broadcast on state television. “No inspection of any military site or interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed.”
It is unclear whether the ayatollah’s remarks were basically meant for public consumption, and whether he has privately signaled more flexibility over the inspection issue.
Still, Mr. Fabius seemed to unequivocally reject the ayatollah’s public assertion, saying on Wednesday that France would reject a deal “if it is not clear that inspections can be done at all Iranian installations, including military sites.”
Speaking to lawmakers in Paris on Wednesday, Mr. Fabius also made clear that he wants all the other countries in the group negotiating with Iran, known as the P5-plus-1, to take the same position.
“Yes to an agreement, but not to an agreement that will enable Iran to have the atomic bomb,” Mr. Fabius said. “That is the position of France, which is independent and peaceful.”
Other disagreements also have emerged between Iran and the group since the preliminary framework was announced last month, notably over when all of the United Nations and Western sanctions against Iran would be terminated.
Iranian officials have insisted that the sanctions must cease on the day a final agreement is signed, while American and other officials have said the sanctions would be lifted in stages afterward, to ensure that Iran keeps its promises.
Both sides have hinted in recent days that the June 30 deadline is not absolute and may be extended. France’s ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, said on Tuesday in remarks to the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based organization, that he thought it “very likely that we won’t have an agreement before the end of June or even after June.” On Wednesday, Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted a senior Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, as saying the talks would “continue until the deadline and could continue beyond that.”
As the talks reconvened, Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to be dealing with discord at home over the nuclear negotiations. In comments reported by state media, the ayatollah praised the work of the negotiators, led by Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and told lawmakers Mr. Zarif’s team is “making genuine efforts to settle the issues” in the talks.
The ayatollah’s remarks came a few days after a secretly made cellphone video circulated on the Internet depicting a hostile exchange in Parliament between Mr. Zarif and a conservative lawmaker, Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, who accused Mr. Zarif of treason for making concessions in the nuclear talks.
Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.
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(via NY Times)