TEHRAN - Mark Fitzpatrick, director for non-proliferation and disarmament at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, says Iran and the major powers “are working hard with sincerity” to reach a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program by July 20.
Iran says its uranium enrichment program is solely for peaceful purposes. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Leader of the Islamic Republic, has also issued a fatwa declaring the production, stockpile and use of weapons of mass destruction as haram (religiously banned).
Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) started a new round of talks in Vienna on Tuesday. Arriving in Vienna on Tuesday afternoon, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “We have come to Vienna with strong determination.”
According to the Joint Plan of Action, the negotiations can be extended for another six months if Iran and the 5+1 group fail to reach a final deal by July 20.
In an interview with the Tehran Times and Mehr news agency, Fitzpatrick said, “All the parties are working hard with sincerity to try to reach an agreement by July 20.”
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, has said Israel fears a “bad deal” with Iran. What does he mean by bad deal?
A: Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to influence America's position in the nuclear talks. He wants to persuade the U.S. to insist upon conditions that will guarantee that Iran cannot build nuclear weapons in a short period of time. This is also Obama's objective. They differ, however, on how short a time would be acceptable. Israel, which is within range of Iran's ballistic missiles, naturally seeks a longer time before Iran could break out of the NPT and produce nuclear weapons.
Q: Suzan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, has said Washington prefers diplomacy in the nuclear row with Iran. What are the United States’ approaches to achieve this goal?
A: Actually, all parties prefer diplomacy rather than military means. Diplomacy involved not only negotiations; it also means persuading allies and other countries to join in offering Iran incentives to reach an acceptable solution and disincentives to being stubborn.
Q: The U.S. State Department has said nuclear talks with Iran are progressing. In the light of this statement is it possible that Iran and the 5+1 group agree on a comprehensive deal by July 20? If not, what will be the problems or challenges?
A: All the parties are working hard with sincerity to try to reach an agreement by July 20. I think it will be very difficult to reach an agreement by then because the two sides are so far apart on some major issues. On the issue of enrichment, for example, Iran seeks to maintain its current enrichment facilities and all of its 2,000 current centrifuges. The P5+1 insist that Iran cut back to about 2-4,000 centrifuges so that it would not be possible to produce a nuclear weapon in less than 6-12 months.
Q: Reuters reported on Saturday that the International Atomic Energy Agency has received an explanation from Iran about the development of detonators. Is this important in the talks in Vienna?
A: It is a good sign that Iran is cooperating with the IAEA to explain past work on detonators for exploding bridge wire. This is one of the examples of nuclear activity that appeared to have a possible military dimension. If Iran can clear up questions about that work, it will help to build confidence in the value of openness and engagement.
Q: Some Western diplomats have said that Iran’s missile capability should be part of the negotiations. Don’t you think that the raising of this issue is due to Israel’s fears?
A: The missile issue has to be addressed because the UN Security Council resolutions mandated a halt to the missile activity. Also, Iran's missiles pose a threat to its neighbors. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are even more concerned that Israel is about Iran's missiles.
Q: Israel’s interests differ from those of the U.S. in regard to Iran’s nuclear program; so how should the U.S. bridge these differences?
A: Although the United States and Israel largely see eye to eye on the Iran nuclear issue, they have a different perspective in some ways. One of the differences is that Israel has said Iran should not be allowed to have any capability to develop nuclear weapons. The United States says Iran should not be allowed to produce nuclear weapons. The United States realizes that Iran already has the capability and that this capability cannot be erased. Many Israelis now also realize this. So I do not think the differences are that great.
Q: What is your prediction of nuclear talks? Moreover, some experts say if the nuclear issue is resolved the West will seek new pretexts to put pressure on Iran. What is your analysis?
A: I am not optimistic that the nuclear talks will produce a comprehensive agreement. But I hope they will. I strongly believe that if the nuclear issue can be resolved, then the animosity between Iran and the West will greatly diminish. They will still have arguments over other issues, such as human rights, Israel's right to exist…. But these arguments will not rise to the level of the nuclear issue. The latter is the issue that could lead to war between Iran and the West. If the nuclear issue is solved, there will be no reason to consider military options.