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What Was On The Table And What Got Rejected At Iran Nuclear Talks?


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The differences between Iran and the six world powers it's negotiating with over its nuclear program remain big enough to have prevented an agreement from being signed in Geneva over the weekend. And the differences between the so-called Five Plus One Group and Israel are also significant. The Five Plus One are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, that includes the U.S. plus Germany.

We're going to try to spell out who's offering what and who's rejecting what's on offer. After the failure of the foreign ministers to reach agreement, a senior U.S. official briefed Israeli journalists, among them Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. Welcome to the program.

HERB KEINON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Let's start with, as best you know it, what the U.S. and the five other powers put on the table. What are they offering?

KEINON: Nothing in general in broad strokes 'cause a lot of details aren't out there. But I think in broad strokes, what we're talking about is an agreement whereby the Iranians will freeze their nuclear program for six months, during which time they will continue to talk about a comprehensive agreement. No negotiations will continue. And in return, they will get some kind of sanctions relief.

I think pretty much, again in broad - very broad strokes, 'cause nobody is giving a lot of the details, and that's what's out there.

SIEGEL: And that would be for six months if that worked out, if there were a loosening of sanctions and a freeze that, I guess, would be monitored. What would then happen? There would be further agreements after that, I assume.

KEINON: Yeah, this would be just the first step. And during this - the whole idea is to buy back some time, right? Because you don't want to negotiate while the Iranians are continuing to spin their centrifuges because they'll just been out the clock, so what they're trying to do is put more time back on the clock. So the idea is get them to freeze. During the six-month freeze, sit down and talk about a comprehensive agreement.

And also, in return, give them some kind of sanctions relief. But again, the details of the sanctions relief hasn't really been spelled out that much, as well.

SIEGEL: Now again, in so far as we can tell, what are the Iranians asking for and not getting here?

KEINON: The Iranians want to get as much sanctions relief as possible, right? I mean, they would like to get all the sanctions on the oil industry lifted. They would like to get the sanctions on the banking industry lifted. They want to get as much as possible. The P5+1 doesn't want to do anything significant that would be irreversible because what happens if the talks during that six-month period fail?

SIEGEL: The Iranians, it has been reported, don't want to concede the right, I gather, to enrich for uranium. Did you understand that to be the case?

KEINON: Yes, I did. Yes. And that's something to which Israel or Prime Minister Netanyahu ardently opposes. He says nobody has the natural right to enrich uranium; you only need to enrich uranium if you want it for nuclear weapons. His point is that there are 17 countries out there in the world who have nuclear energy, who have a civilian nuclear program without enriching uranium. And that's the way it should be with the Iranians.

SIEGEL: OK, more broadly, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been very critical of the deal that was evidently discussed in Geneva. Apart from that issue of the right to enrich, what's his problem with the six-month, some concession on sanctions and freezing the Iranian nuclear program?

KEINON: Look, I think Israel's vision is, don't relieve the sanctions unless the Iranians start to take material action to not only freeze the program but to roll it back. If you want to freeze the Iranian program, then freeze the sanctions. But don't freeze the program and rollback the sanctions. And the concern is that what's - look, it's taken a long time to build up the whole sanctions regime. And his concern is once there's a crack in that wall - once you put a little pin in the tire - the air out of the whole things that come out and this whole sanctions regime will collapse.

And both the Americans - or both the P5+1 and Israel, I think, agreed that it's because of the crippling sanctions that we're even at this position anyhow, right? Because of the crippling sanctions do you have a new president in Iran, and they've come back to the table with the most serious proposals that they've had for two decades.

SIEGEL: So part of the difference here between Washington and certainly the Israelis, perhaps the Saudis as well, is whether the Iranians should get some kind of carrot at this point - in the form of loosening sanctions - whether that should only come after centrifuges are shut down, let's say.

Yes, I think that's a good characterization, right. And don't give them anything until you get something concrete, not just a freeze.

Herb Keinon, thanks for talking with us.

KEINON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.