On the eve of new talks, key players from Iran and the world’s six major powers remained firmly committed to rival positions but also expressed cautious optimism about an interim agreement. The third round takes place in Geneva on November 20-22. The following are comments from senior officials.
President Hassan Rouhani
In a string of tweets, President Rouhani was upbeat about tangible progress, hinting at the last minute change in the draft agreement that prevented agreement at the November 7-9 talks. His tweets followed a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 18.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
In an interview with an Iranian news agency, Foreign Minister Zarif used language that hinted at a possible compromise on the controversial issue of uranium enrichment, the critical process that provides fuel for both nuclear energy and a nuclear weapon. He said other countries could "respect" Iran’s right while not formally recognizing it.
"Iran's enrichment right does not need recognition, because it is an inseparable right based on the NPT [Nonproliferation Treaty]. What we expect is respecting parts of this right," Zarif told the Iranian Student News Agency.
Zarif, who is also the lead nuclear negotiator, said all participants to the talks share common goals. "I think that there is no serious disagreement on shared goal and the final perspective… I can't see any reason to be pessimist about seriousness of the sides in recording agreed issues."
On November 19, Zarif posted the following video, titled "Iran's Message: There Is A Way Forward."
The United States
President Barack Obama
In a press conference, the president pushed back on new Congressional sanctions before another round of diplomacy.
“We will have lost nothing if, at the end of the day, it turns out that they [Iranians] are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon…
“If it turns out six months from now they're not serious, we can crank - we can dial those sanctions right back up.”
In a letter to Congressional leaders, former national security advisers for both Democratic and Republican presidents called for wider backing from the Senate and House for the new diplomatic initiative with Iran. The letter from Zbigniew Bzrezinski (from the Carter administration) and Brent Scowcroft (of the George H.W. Bush administration) also appealed for a delay of new punitive measure to give the “unprecedented” diplomatic talks a greater chance of success.
We support President Obama’s decision to seek a first phase understanding with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program now. The agreement under discussion would slow crucial elements of the Iran program, make it more transparent and allow time to reach a more comprehensive agreement in the coming year. The apparent commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activities needs to be tested to insure it cannot rapidly build a nuclear weapon. Such an agreement would advance the national security of the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region.
For nearly two decades American Presidents with the strong support of the US Congress have worked on a two track policy of building ever more forceful sanctions against and pressure on Iran, combined with a willingness to turn to diplomacy when opportune. It now seems possible that this dual track approach could achieve our goals of preventing a nuclear armed Iran.
The United States has had the unprecedented cooperation of its allies and virtually the entire international community in this two track strategy. Should the United States fail to take this historic opportunity, we risk failing to achieve our non-proliferation goal and losing the support of allies and friends while increasing the probability of war.
Additional sanctions now against Iran with the view to extracting even more concessions in the negotiations will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations. More sanctions now as these unprecedented negotiations are just getting underway would reconfirm Iranians in their belief that the US is not prepared to make any agreement with the current government of Iran. We call on all Americans and the US Congress to stand firmly with the President in the difficult but historic negotiations with Iran.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor
Brent Scowcroft, Former National Security Advisor
Russia has been the most optimistic publicly about the prospects of an agreement. President Vladimir Putin called President Rouhani on November 18 to discuss the negotiations.
“Vladimir Putin underlined [in a call with President Rouhani] that at the moment a real chance has appeared to find a solution to this long-running problem.”
Nov. 18, 2013 in a Kremlin statement
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
“The steps that Iran is prepared to set out as its commitments are quite, quite substantial and go in the direction of the demands of the international community at a much faster pace, in fact, than had been expected.”
Nov. 18, 2013 to reporters
Israel has been the most critical of the diplomacy, although there is a wide range of opinions among top politicians. The following is a cross section of comments.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“They're not giving up any of their capacity. They have 18,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium to make the core of a bomb. They're not giving up even one centrifuge. Not one. So they're keeping their capacity.
“I think a lot is being offered by the P5+1 for Iran. It's getting just an enormous deal, from their point of view, and it's giving practically nothing in return. They're keeping their infrastructure to make nuclear bombs…But I think also to the signaling inside Iran that it's over, and signaling outside Iran to many countries that will start scrambling for contracts in Iran. And it's going to be very hard to keep the sanctions regime.
“I think the opposite should be done. I think you should not only keep up the pressure; I think you should increase the pressure, because it's finally working…If you want a peaceful solution, as I do, then the right thing to do is ratchet up the sanctions.”
Nov. 17, 2013 in an interview with CNN
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
“If Iran is serious, why not end this whole affair with an agreement instead of by force? Perhaps we will reach the conclusion that nothing else worked, but we owe it to ourselves to check.”
Nov. 17, 2013 in remarks to American college students
Zahava Gal-on, Meretz Party leader in parliament
“Netanyahu doesn’t object, as he wrote on his Facebook page, to a ‘bad agreement with Iran,’ but to any agreement that’s directly negotiated between the United States and Iran… It’s in Israel’s interest to support the US goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through a diplomatic agreement that will employ stringent monitoring and verification, and not the winds of war.”