- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2014

The Obama administration will open a fresh round of six-nation talks Tuesday aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, but Iran’s top leader predicted on the eve of negotiations that diplomacy will fail.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday that he accepted the talks at the urging of other Iranian leaders but added that Washington will be to blame when the negotiations collapse.

“The nuclear issue is an excuse,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on state TV. “Iran will not violate what it has promised, but Americans are hostile toward the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic republic.”

The talks in Vienna will bring together the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., France, Britain, Russia and China — and Germany with the goal of finalizing an interim deal reached in November in Geneva. Under that six-month deal, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for reduced economic sanctions by the West.

Ahead of the talks, Secretary of State John F. Kerry blasted Iran and Russia for continuing to support the Syrian regime in its 3-year-old civil war, after he arrived Monday in the United Arab Emirates.

Ahead of the talks, Secretary of State John F. Kerry blasted Iran and Russia for continuing to support the Syrian regime in its 3-year-old civil war, after he arrived Monday in the United Arab Emirates. (Associated Press)
Ahead of the talks, Secretary of State John F. Kerry blasted Iran ... more >

President Obama has said the chances of reaching a comprehensive agreement on Iranian denuclearization are no more than “50/50,” but that the U.S. must try anyway.

Analysts expect the talks to last at least six months as negotiators work on resolving issues such as dismantling Iran’s 10,000 centrifuges that enrich uranium and converting the heavy-water plant at Arak, which could be used to create plutonium bombs.

“I’d call it ‘Mission Implausible,’” said Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. “It’s going to be excruciatingly difficult to find the right balance of interests that would satisfy all the constituencies.”

The U.S. and its allies believe Iran’s $100 billion nuclear infrastructure is intended to produce an atomic weapon. Iran denies that and says its program is aimed at peaceful purposes such as power generation and medical treatment.

To fulfill commitments under the interim deal, Iran stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent Jan. 20 and started neutralizing its stockpile enriched to that level — just steps away from weapons-grade material.

U.S. officials are seeking a permanent deal that would allow Tehran, which insists it will never dismantle equipment, to save face with its citizens. Mr. Obama has said any accord must provide a “dignified path for Iran to forge a new beginning with the wider world.”

Mr. Miller said one proposed solution would be for a third party to take possession of Iran’s centrifuges, which would allow Tehran to claim its program is still intact.

Other thorny issues include what to do with Iran’s deeply buried uranium enrichment plant at Fordow. The U.S. and its allies insist that the bomb-resistant site be dismantled because it could enable Iran to create a weapon before Western forces could destroy the complex.

Another question is the length of any potential agreement, Mr. Miller said.

“I would think you’d have to build in some degree of longevity here, a time span that goes well beyond four to eight years,” the analyst said. “Otherwise, what have we done? The best you can do is put enough time on Iran’s nuclear clock that you would have hopefully at least a year to detect, deter or set the stage through diplomacy for an attack.”

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