Iran sanctions to be eased as US and west work out full Geneva deal
Oil revenues to be paid to Tehran in first phase of nuclear agreement, with warmer relations expected across region
Ian Traynor in Brussels, Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Julian Borger
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 19.08 GMT
Link to video: Iran nuclear deal: west will ease sanctions, says William Haguehttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/25/hague-iran-nuclear-weat-ease-sanction-william-hague-video
The west is likely to start easing crippling sanctions on Iran in the new year, following the breakthrough agreement in Geneva to freeze and reverse Iran's nuclear programme.
"The focus for the coming weeks has to be swift implementation," said a senior western diplomat.
The accord reached in Geneva on Sunday morning represents a first, six-month phase of a process in which Iran will accept limits on its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.
According to US calculations, the interim deal will be worth up to $7bn (£4.3bn) to Iran, made up of $4.2bn in Iranian oil sales revenue unblocked from frozen accounts; $1bn repatriated from petrochemical sales; a possible $500m in extra production and sales by the Iranian car industry due to the lifting of the ban on imports of car parts; and the unblocking of $400m in Iranian frozen assets to help pay the costs of Iranian students abroad. A suspension on a ban on Iran's trade in gold and other precious metals is expected to bring in smaller amounts.
France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said EU ministers would discuss the lifting of partial sanctions as early as December and that a "Europe-wide" decision was necessary for easing some of the punitive measures that the EU has imposed on Tehran. "[That meeting] is expected in several weeks, for a partial lifting that is limited, targeted and reversible," he told radio station Europe 1.
The Geneva deal, struck between Iran and a six-nation group comprising the US, three European states, Russia and China, mediated by the EU's foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, is expected to trigger a flurry of diplomacy. This will include an EU initiative to try to reassure Iran's regional rivals, enemies and sceptics, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, of the value of an agreement that, for the first time in a decade, has Tehran agreeing to roll back its nuclear projects under intrusive daily inspection by United Nations monitors.
European and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts are to confer this week on how to verify the implementation of the accord in Iran, which will rely heavily on IAEA expertise and manpower to inspect Iran's nuclear-related sites.
Diplomatic efforts will also be made to bolster Iranian reformists under President Hassan Rouhani to try to reinforce his flanks against a conservative backlash in Iran.
"The [Iranian] government can show they are really delivering on their promise to improve relations with the west," said a senior diplomat. "I hope it will change Iran's relations, particularly with the west, for the better. This will hopefully recreate more confidence and trust. I know that for countries in the region there are other issues that are very important – that is Iran's regional role."
Ashton and the six-nation group will soon start work preparing further negotiations with the Iranians with a view to sealing a final settlement within six months. The task could be far more challenging than clinching the interim accord as it will involve tackling issues that were set aside during the past few months' deliberations as being too hard to solve.
At some stage, say sources, those negotiations will have to tackle suspected military aspects of the nuclear programme that go back years and have never been clarified, concerning the Parchin military complex, for example.
Western diplomats say that the Geneva deal was achieved in the nick of time as Iran's enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium were escalating at such a rate that the country would soon have had the capacity to assemble nuclear weapons in a matter of weeks if it had chosen to break out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
"It is a first important step," said the senior diplomat of the weekend agreement. "If we had not been able to agree that step and the Iranian programme had progressed the way it has been progressing in the last months, this would have significantly increased the break-out capability."
Fabius assured Israel that Paris would be protecting its security in the Middle East, but said he did not think Tel Aviv would seek military action against the Islamic republic because, if it did, "no one would understand it".
Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has called the Geneva agreement an "historic mistake". He announced on Monday that he would be sending a team to Washington to discuss the Iran deal.
"I spoke last night with President Obama. We agreed that, in the coming days, an Israeli team led by the national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, will go out to discuss with the United States the permanent accord with Iran," he said.
But Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, told parliament on Monday : "We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned.
"The fact we have achieved for the first time in nearly a decade an agreement that halts and rolls back Iran's nuclear programme should give us heart this work can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be attained."
Iran's negotiating team, led by its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, returned home on Sunday night from Switzerland to a hero's welcome at Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
Upon arriving in Tehran, Zarif updated his Facebook page, which has been "liked" by 700,000 people, apologising to his supporters that bodyguards did not allow him to spend time with them at the aiport.
"It is 10:45pm Sunday night. Just arrived at home. Before posting a report drafted in airplane, I would like to thank all present in airport for welcoming us," he wrote. "I am very sorry that our guardsmen wouldn't let me get out of the automobile."
His message post, Zarif talked about the tensions behind the smiles and laughs shown on camera worldwide. Zarif said: "The art of a diplomat is to conceal all the turbulences behind his smile." He called on his critics in Iran to be fair and consider the country's national interests. "You should be alert that Zionists and other warmongers are all extremely on edge and they would spare no pretext and device to bring a deal – dubbed a deal of the century for Iran – to nothing," he wrote.
Zarif's smiling face dominated the front pages in Tehran, with two reformist newspapers, Etemaad and Shargh, publishing the picture of his handshake with his American counterpart, John Kerry.
Conservative newspapers also ran headlines suportive of Zarif's diplomacy, apart from Kayhan, a hardline newspaper whose director is appointed by supreme leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei. "The US is not to be trusted," read its deadline.
Sadeq Zibakalam, a prominent analyst at Tehran University, told Deutsche Welle's Persian service: "Geneva showed that people in Iran are tired of radicalism. We will see more newspapers in stands, less censorship by the cultural ministry and release of more political prisoners."
Zibakalam said he thought the house arrest of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, would also be lifted in the coming months.
Iran's currency market reacted positively to news of the nuclear accord, with the Iranian rial steadily recovering its value against the US dollar.
*****************Across political spectrum, Iran media largely supports nuclear deal
'Only two people in the universe dissatisfied with the Geneva accord: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Hossein Shariatmadari'
Tehran Bureau correspondent
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 November 2013 11.03 GMT
It was quite early for Hossein Shariatmadari, the longstanding editor in chief of Kayhan, to start criticising the temporary nuclear deal reached in Geneva.
“Shariatmadari intentionally wrote Sunday’s lead editorial in order to avoid having to write anything about the agreement Monday,” said one political desk journalist at the reformist Shargh daily concerning the initial reaction of Iran’s leading right-wing newspaper to the nuclear accord just signed in Geneva.
Though Shariatmadari is also Kayhan’s chief editorial writer, that lead opinion piece Sunday was in fact attributed – most unusually – to education editor Hossein Shamsian. Whoever its true author, it accused the United States of immediately subverting the accord.
Decrying Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that Iran’s right to uranium enrichment had not been recognized, it exclaimed, “After years of persecuting and usurping the Iranian people’s rights, they put even this agreement under question and suspicion within hours of its signing! Of course, this is exactly what the Supreme Leader predicted regarding America’s long history of imperial arrogance and their agreement-breaching character.”
While most Iranians fervently welcomed the accord, the Kayhan editorial cautioned the country’s citizens against hopefulness and demanded that its compatriots in the media “avoid exuberantly selling this as a victory to the people, which at the least will result in expectations whose fulfillment can’t be expected due to the nature of the agreement.”
A meme that swiftly took shape in Iranian social media holds that there are only two people in the universe dissatisfied with the Geneva accord: Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Hossein Shariatmadari.
Ali Reza, a 24-year-old engineering student who had gone to the airport to cheer Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, on his return from Geneva said that one of the slogans the crowd chanted was “Condolences Israel! Condolences Kayhan!”
While most of Iran’s conservative press welcomed the agreement with the group of world powers known as the P5+1, the Raja News website, affiliated with influential arch-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, shared Kayhan’s concerns.
Raja News’ Ali Naderi wrote, “While it is claimed that the enemy has recognized Iran’s right to uranium enrichment, the P5+1 did not even agree to include this phrase in the agreement, despite years of confidence-building efforts on Iran’s side.”
Another Raja News contributor, Camil Taghipoor, in an item titled “Do Imbalanced Steps of Iran and the 5+1 Protect Iran’s Interests?”, argued, “In contrast to Iran’s comprehensive and transparent commitments, the west’s commitments are minor and open to interpretation.”
In the parliament on Sunday, Hamid Rassaei, a clerical ally of ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who regularly writes opinion pieces for Raja News, condemned the agreement. After Majles vice speaker Mohammad Hossein Aboutorabi praised the “valuable efforts” of the negotiating team and “especially” the foreign minister, Rassaei riposted, “The question is if the people’s representatives yet understand the Iran and P5+1 agreement. And I am puzzled at to what Mr Aboutorabi actually applauded this morning. We don’t even know what was agreed to between Iran and the P5+1.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a political analyst in Tehran said, “Extremists in the parliament and the media feel sorely defeated. Their perches have been rattled by domestic causes and now foreign events are bringing them to collapse. [Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei has turned his back on them and they can’t climb the power pyramid by virtue of aggressive foreign policy acts. They want to break up the game at any cost, but they have also lost that power, at least for now.”
On the other hand, the nuclear agreement has powerful supporters such as the head of the Expediency Council, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has supported President Hassan Rouhani before and since his June election. Rafsanjani entered the fray a few hours after the accord’s announcement, stating, “It’s true that Iran’s right to [uranium] enrichment has not been written in, but it remains secure, as this subject is pointed out in Iran’s NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] agreement and naturally any nation has the right to a peaceful nuclear industry and can enrich as well.”
The former president, speaking at Ali Akbar Velayati’s inauguration as head of the Center for Strategic Research, added of the P5+1, “They were reluctant about the phrasing [around this matter] as they wanted to show something in hand. Regardless, it make no difference, as they have implicitly said that ‘you can continue to enrich.’ If they had said that it is ‘your right’, then other nations would step in and say that they had the right too.”
Prominent conservative Majles deputy Ahmad Tavakoli concurred with Rafsanjani’s view. As quoted by the Tabnak website, he said, “The information received thus far can be evaluated positively. The biggest impasse – now pulverized – was in regard to Iran’s right to enrichment. They dropped their heads in acquiescence.”
Tehran representative Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, also embraced the agreement, stating, “We must welcome Iran’s first success in its ten-year-long challenge in this unequal nuclear struggle in establishing the right to enrich and initiating the dismantling of sanctions. In this first step toward its delineated goals, it has been victorious. The anger of the Zionist and Saudi Arabian regimes over the agreement’s [measures] indicates their effectiveness and importance.”
An expert in Iran who has closely followed the progress of the country’s nuclear programme over the past decade said, “In my view, Iran has obtained a valuable agreement. Iran has been given the right to continue enrichment at the 5% level without seeing further sanctions, along with some existing sanctions being lifted. This is what right to enrichment means. In 2003, Iran halted all enrichment comprehensively. But now, at the peak of crisis, it has the right to enrich and no one is against it. Even aggressive figures like [French foreign minister Laurent] Fabius have accepted it.”
The conservative Resalat daily also expressed great satisfaction with the agreement. Mohammad Kazim Anbarluei, a senior member of its editorial team and a prominent figure in the right-wing Islamic Coalition Party (Motalefeh), authored the paper’s lead Monday editorial, declaring that for the first time “the interlocutor was forced to concede points” and that “Iran’s right to uranium enrichment has been conceded, putting the legal basis of UN security council resolutions under question.”
The lead editorial in Johmhouri Eslami, another conservative daily, stated, “The advantages that Iran has attained in the signed nuclear agreement set the groundwork for economic expansion in the country, and the energy, time, and resources that have been used over the years to overcome the nuclear impasse can be put to work for the nation’s critical essentials.
“Certainly, domestic opponents of the Geneva nuclear accord may criticize it, but what’s unacceptable is their stone-pelting, unrealistic propaganda against this agreement. Now that the Supreme Leader has sanctioned the Geneva nuclear pact in his reply to the president’s letter, irrational antagonists have no option but silence.”
Iran’s longest-publishing daily, the ideologically moderate Ettalaat, asked Sadegh Kharazi – ambassador to the United Nations and later France during Mohammad Khatami’s reformist administration – to pen its lead editorial. According to Kharazi, “Reaching an agreement in Geneva is the first step in a long and difficult road, and has to be interpreted as the first move toward normalizing Iran’s nuclear dossier and its return from the Security Council to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and as a strategic agreement that has to be defended against any setback.”
He defended the negotiation tactics of his close friend Zarif, and called the foreign minister’s efforts “heroic.”In Iranian circles, reformism is a relative thing, and the former diplomat also wrote, “The success of the Geneva negotiations attests to how international extremist movements, such as belligerent American warmongers, aggressive Israeli militarists, and the petrified, wimpy-hearted Saudis, in addition to al-Qaeda and Salafist forces, have lost the beat.”
On Sunday, domestic media outlets quoted Abdullah al-Askar, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Assembly, saying, “My worry is that Iran may have given up something regional to obtain some other political advantage from international powers. I am worried that Iran has been given a larger space and more freedom of action in the region.”
In central Tehran’s Abbas Abad neighborhood, Rose, 26, scanned the headlines at a newsstand. “They are constantly looking to do dastardly deeds," she said, referring to the Saudi stance. "If we had not come to an accord, they’d say, ‘Sanction them.’ Now that we have reached an agreement, they interrogate the US: ‘Why did you agree?’”
Yousef, who ferries passengers on his motorbike between Vali Asr and Haft’e Tir squares, summed up the mood for many: “Thank God our bride and groom have made up.”
"America, the groom, said a few things in haste. Obama said that they will not be enriching and [we] will remove the uranium. But I don’t imagine Iran would do such things. Anyhow, thank God that it all ended up well.”
****************Israel kicks its most important ally in the shins over Iran nuclear deal
Netanyahu has not only weakened his leverage with the United States, he's weakened it with the other members of the P5+1
theguardian.com, Tuesday 26 November 2013 12.45 GMT
When word came from Geneva that there was a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, the Israeli government faced a clear choice – support the agreement and call for continued vigilance in preventing Iran from getting a deal or blast the agreement as inadequate.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose, not surprisingly, the latter course labeling the deal an "historic mistake". In the process he has further isolated Israel and widened what may be the most serious rift in US-Israel relations in two decades.
The crux of the growing US-Israel divide is the fact that the two countries simply don't see eye-to-eye on Iran's nuclear program. The Israelis want a complete dismantling of Iran's capabilities – a position that is unrealistic and short of using military force is never going to happen. Iran has progressed so far along the road to developing a nuclear capability that the issue today is what is the best way to slow the program and prevent Iran from going nuclear rather than reversing it.
Indeed, if Netanyahu stepped back from his red line, he might actually realize that the deal signed in Geneva goes a long way towards meeting that goal. In fact, it is rather shocking the number of concessions the US and its western allies were able to secure in Geneva without giving up that much in return. Under the agreement, Iran must stop all uranium enrichment above 5% and neutralize its stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20%. In addition, Iran must halt construction at the Arak nuclear reactor (which was potentially capable of producing plutonium for a bomb) and end the production, installation and maintenance of centrifuges used for enrichment purposes.
While these steps will not ultimately prevent Iran from getting enough material to make a bomb, they will certainly stop the process, a far better result than no deal at all. Perhaps most important, Iran has agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to have daily access to Iran's two major enrichment facilities – a level of transparency that the Arms Control Association rightly calls "unprecedented". These inspection measures will make it virtually impossible for Iran to pursue "breakout" nuclear capabilities without detection.
And what is Iran getting in return? Frankly, not much. The biggest carrot is relief from international sanctions – to the tune of approximately $7bn. This is not chump change, but considering that about $100bn in Iranian overseas assets will remain frozen and the vast architecture of international and unilateral sanctions will remain in place, it isn't that much, either. If anything, the continued pain caused by these sanctions is incentive enough for Iran to offer further concessions in negotiations toward a final agreement.
In fact, the Iranians have to know that a failure to abide by this temporary deal will basically ensure that sanctions will likely never be lifted against them. If Iran prefers having a bomb to having a functioning economy than theoretically they'd be OK with that. But then why enter talks in the first place; and why agree to such intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities? Iran could just as easily continue to develop its capability and present the world with a fait accompli. Signing on that bottom line in Geneva has put enormous pressure on Iran to live up to its obligations or face dire consequences.
That Netanyahu describes these advances as a "mistake" is a reflection of how isolated he's made Israel on the Iran issue. No one – not even Israel's new bestie, France – is going to stand on that wall for the complete removal of Iran's nuclear program. In the pursuit of the perfect deal for Israel, they've made themselves into the enemy of the good.
The impact on US-Israel relations, however, could be more serious. The bonds between the US and Israel are too strong to be irreparably changed by this agreement (and Netanyahu's rhetoric), and the White House is already taking steps to ratchet down the heat. But increasingly, it seems clear that the current Israeli government is in denial about US policy toward the Middle East. America is not sprinting to the region's exits, but it's certainly taking a brisk walk in that direction. Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan; resisting intervention in Syria; seeking to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and making a deal with Iran are the actions of a nation finally waking up to – and executing on – the fact that US engagement in the Middle East brings with it more costs than benefits.
This isn't a blip; it's the new reality in the Middle East and Netanyahu's harsh condemnation of the deal made in Geneva – a deal made in large measure to safeguard Israel's security – will only serve to reinforce the view among US policymakers and in particular President Obama that they're on the right path.
This is not to say that Netanyahu shouldn't do what he thinks is best for his nation, and if he thinks the deal is a bad one, he's well within his rights to say so. But kicking Israel's most important ally in the shins, denigrating their diplomatic efforts, darkly hinting that they will unilaterally use military force and seeking to upend what is clearly one of President Obama's key foreign policy priorities, nuclear non-proliferation, is incredibly unwise.
By taking such a position, Netanyahu has not only weakened his leverage with the United States, he's weakened it with the other members of the P5+1. Over the next six months, as Iran and the P5+1 seek to forge a comprehensive agreement, Israel's ability to influence that deal – and the US negotiating positions – will be shaped by their public stance and their willingness to accept something less than an ideal solution. If the last 48 hours are any indication, they're not off to a good start.
November 25, 2013Israelis See Ticking Clock, and Alternate Approaches, on Iran and Palestinians
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders on Monday condemned the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program as an exercise in appeasement by the Western powers and a delaying tactic by Iran. Yet many of them see the same strategy of interim confidence-building steps as the only realistic route to resolving their long-running conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel is outraged that, under the deal signed Sunday, Iran is not required to stop enriching uranium or to dismantle centrifuges while negotiating a final agreement with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. At the same time, Israel continues to build West Bank settlements while negotiating with the Palestinians, prompting similar outrage from the international community.
Easing economic sanctions against Iran, Israel argues, will only remove the pressure that brought Tehran to the table in the first place. Yet Israel — as well as the United States — sees initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy as a critical companion to the political and security discussions.
Do these alternate approaches to parallel issues that are crucial to Israel’s future amount to hopeless hypocrisy? Or are they simply a sign of the profound differences in the way Israel views the two problems and its starkly different role in the two sets of talks?
“Looking at how Bibi views these negotiations tells you a great deal about how he’s seeing the world,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, using the nickname of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi’s self-image first and foremost is shaped by wanting to lead Israel out of the shadow of the Iranian bomb. His image is not driven by being the peacemaker, creating two states and dividing Jerusalem.”
“Both offer pathways that are incredibly problematic for him,” Mr. Miller added. “It’s like the rest of the world is playing checkers and he is forced to play three-dimensional chess.”
After years of railing against Iran’s nuclear program, and decades of discussions with the Palestinians, Israel suddenly finds itself facing clocks ticking simultaneously on both fronts. As Tzipi Livni, Israel’s lead negotiator with the Palestinians, said on Monday, “We have six months to prevent a permanent agreement with Iran, which will make it nuclear, and six months to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, which will secure a safe, Jewish and democratic Israel.”
Mr. Netanyahu announced Monday that he was sending a team led by his national security adviser to the United States to discuss the final deal with Iran, which he said “must lead to one result: the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capability.”
But Israel is not a party to the Geneva-based talks on Iran’s nuclear program, leaving it mostly to lobbing grenades from the bleachers. And Israel views Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat to its existence, while the Palestinian issue garners far less urgency and is mainly seen as a problem to be managed in the hope of avoiding international isolation.
“It’s interesting on paper, but it’s missing the whole point of the substance about what each of these tracks are about,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute here who has written extensively on both issues. “There’s a difference between creating a state and stopping a nuclear program. It’s not the same dynamic.”
“This is an existential moment,” he added, “and the Palestinians at this point are a diversion.”
There has long been suspicion of linking the two issues, along the lines of the Obama administration’s promising Mr. Netanyahu it would block Iran from getting the bomb in exchange for his making concessions with the Palestinians. Such a trade seems off the table now, and many think Israel will continue to go through the motions of the peace talks started this summer only at the insistence of Secretary of State John Kerry, while focusing intensely on Iran.
The significance of the interim agreement for the Israeli-Palestinian issue did not escape the notice of Palestinian officials. On Monday, Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, called it a “unique precedent” and “platform” that should be applied to the peace process.
“What happened in Geneva is a new prototype where everybody has shared in reaching an agreement to avoid war and achieve stability,” Mr. Erekat said in a statement. “We call upon the international community to make use of the same efforts in order to end decades of occupation and exile for the people of Palestine in order to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.”
In some ways, Israel’s approach to Iran has echoed arguments long made by its Palestinian adversaries. Over the past few weeks, Israeli leaders frequently said Iran must be forced to comply with United Nations resolutions and International Atomic Energy Agreements that it has been violating for years. Similarly, the Palestinians insist that Israel must live up to prior promises to evacuate settlements considered illegal under international law.
“It shows a double standard,” said one senior Palestinian official involved in the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity under an American dictate not to discuss them publicly. “If they expect to reach a solution in Iran by pushing more and more sanctions, why shouldn’t they expect from our side to push for sanctions against Israel?”
Jay Rothman, a professor in a new program at Bar-Ilan University on conflict management, resolution and negotiation, said both tracks were stuck in a pre-negotiations phase where the sides saw each other as “evil” and had yet to narrow their differences enough to define a common agenda.
“These are existential needs, and unfortunately when we play the negotiations game, they’re played against each other as if they’re zero-sum,” Professor Rothman said. “If we’re talking about interests, power, economic gains — those are bargainable. But in existential needs, the more I get the better, but the less you get, not the better, because unless you get your existential needs, you’re not going to let me get mine.”
*****************Mohammad Javad Zarif: Iran's man on a diplomatic mission
Foreign minister starting to normalise Iran's ties with rest of the world while keeping hardliners at bay back home
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 18.44 GMT
Asked in September how optimistic he was about a possible nuclear deal with the west, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's popular foreign minister, replied: "It takes two to tango."
It was only in the early hours of Sunday, as Zarif and his six western counterparts prepared to leave Geneva's Intercontinental hotel on a five-minute journey to the Palace of Nations for a historic Kodak moment, that he could be certain the other side at last had said yes to his invitation.
Before leaving the hotel that morning, Zarif took a few moments to go up to his room on the 14th floor to update his Twitter and Facebook accounts. "We have reached an agreement," he tweeted at 3.03am local time.
With that simple message, the 53-year-old showed that President Hassan Rouhani's best decision upon assuming office was to appoint him as the man in charge of reviving Tehran's diplomacy, which had been badly damaged under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Now, 100 days after taking the job, Zarif enjoys immense support at home, with supporters of both the opposition and Rouhani's regime largely united in their admiration for his quick diplomatic work.
Supporters of Mohammad Javad Zarif Supporters of Mohammad Javad Zarif flash the sign for victory as the foreign minister arrived home from Geneva. Photograph: Hemmat Khahi/AFP/Getty Images
According to Zarif, his career in diplomacy started by accident. In 1977, two years before the Islamic revolution, the then 16-year-old travelled to the US on a student visa. When revolutionaries toppled the shah in Tehran, Zarif decided to seek work at Iran's UN mission in New York.
A fluent English speaker with a PhD from the University of Denver, he stayed in the US for much of his post-revolutionary life, rising through the ranks of the New York mission. He became heavily involved in rare and often secret bilateral negotiations between Tehran and Washington, and was promoted to ambassador to the UN.
In 1987 when Iran's then president, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, travelled to New York to address the UN general assembly, Zarif organised Khamenei's trip and managed to gain his trust. According to Kamal Kharazi, a former Iranian foreign minister, it was Khamenei who personally gave Zarif permission to talk directly to the US at that time.
At the UN the ambassador was praised for his diplomatic manner even by the Islamic republic's sworn enemies. The former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger reportedly gave him a copy of his 1994 book Diplomacy, signing it "To Zarif, my respectful enemy".
William Miller, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who met Zarif frequently in New York, said the diplomat was "extremely well-informed" about the US and "deeply knowledgeable" about his own country. "He's admirably suited by temperament, background and education to work on these issues that have divided the US and Iran for 34 years," Miller said.
Mohammad Javad Zarif Mohammad Javad Zarif, centre left, shakes hands with John Kerry in Geneva. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
According to his memoirs, based on a series of interviews and published under the title Mr Ambassador, Zarif stuck to the customs of his own country. "I lived for 30 years in the US, but always kept my Islamic and Iranian culture and customs … even now western lifestyle feels strange to me," he says in the book.
"You can't drink alcohol, you can't eat non-halal meat and you don't shake hands with women – that's why an Iranian diplomat would always feel that [the west] is not the place he should be."
Although it was Rouhani who chose Zarif as foreign minister, his appointment would have been impossible without the blessing of Khamenei, now Iran's supreme leader. It is widely believed that Zarif secured Khamenei's trust during his time at the UN by being an obedient servant, even though at times he held different views.
As foreign minister Zarif has managed the difficult trick of starting to normalise Iran's ties with the international community, especially Washington, while keeping hardliners at bay back home. In September he held a historic bilateral meeting with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, on the sidelines of the UN general assembly, a move that broke the 34-year taboo over direct talks between Tehran and Washington. He has since met Kerry many times, which is remarkable in the context of more than three decades of hostility.
With more than 700,000 likes on Facebook and 87,000 followers on Twitter, Zarif is perhaps the Islamic republic's most popular diplomat since 1979. "Dr Zarif, thank you," read one of the 36,000 comments on Zarif's Facebook page on Sunday. Updating his status upon arriving in Tehran to a hero's welcome, Zarif wrote at 10.45pm local time on Sunday: "The art of a diplomat is to conceal all turbulence behind his smile."
November 25, 2013U.S. and Saudis in Growing Rift as Power Shifts
By ROBERT F. WORTH
WASHINGTON — There was a time when Saudi and American interests in the Middle East seemed so aligned that the cigar-smoking former Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was viewed as one of the most influential diplomats in Washington.
Those days are over. The Saudi king and his envoys — like the Israelis — have spent weeks lobbying fruitlessly against the interim nuclear accord with Iran that was reached in Geneva on Sunday. In the end, there was little they could do: The Obama administration saw the nuclear talks in a fundamentally different light from the Saudis, who fear that any letup in the sanctions will come at the cost of a wider and more dangerous Iranian role in the Middle East.
Although the Saudis remain close American allies, the nuclear accord is the culmination of a slow mutual disenchantment that began at the end of the Cold War.
For decades, Washington depended on Saudi Arabia — a country of 30 million people but the Middle East’s largest reserves of oil — to shore up stability in a region dominated by autocrats and hostile to another ally, Israel. The Saudis used their role as the dominant power in OPEC to help rein in Iraq and Iran, and they supported bases for the American military, anchoring American influence in the Middle East and beyond.
But the Arab uprisings altered the balance of power across the Middle East, especially with the ouster of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of both the Saudis and the Americans.
The United States has also been reluctant to take sides in the worsening sectarian strife between Shiite and Sunni, in which the Saudis are firm partisans on the Sunni side.
At the same time, new sources of oil have made the Saudis less essential. And the Obama administration’s recent diplomatic initiatives on Syria and Iran have left the Saudis with a deep fear of abandonment.
“We still share many of the same goals, but our priorities are increasingly different from the Saudis,” said F. Gregory Gause III, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Vermont. “When you look at our differing views of the Arab Spring, on how to deal with Iran, on changing energy markets that make gulf oil less central — these things have altered the basis of U.S.-Saudi relations.”
The United States always had important differences with the Saudis, including on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the spread of fundamentalist strains of Islam, Mr. Gause added. But the Obama administration’s determination to ease the long estrangement with Iran’s theocratic leaders has touched an especially raw nerve: Saudi Arabia’s deep-rooted hostility to its Shiite rival for leadership of the Islamic world.
Saudi reaction to the Geneva agreement was guarded on Monday, with the official Saudi Press Agency declaring in a statement that “if there is good will, then this agreement could be an initial step” toward a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In recent days, Saudi officials and influential columnists have made clear that they fear the agreement will reward Iran with new legitimacy and a few billion dollars in sanctions relief at exactly the wrong time. Iran has been mounting a costly effort to support the government of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, including arms, training and some of its most valuable Revolutionary Guards commandos, an effort that has helped Mr. Assad win important victories in recent months.
The Saudis fear that further battlefield gains will translate into expanded Iranian hegemony across the region. Already, the Saudis have watched with alarm as Turkey — their ally in supporting the Syrian rebels — has begun making conciliatory gestures toward Iran, including an invitation by the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, to his Iranian counterpart to pay an official visit earlier this month.
In the wake of the accord’s announcement on Sunday, Saudi Twitter users posted a wave of anxious, defeatist comments about being abandoned by the United States.
In many ways, those fears are at odds with the facts of continuing American-Saudi cooperation on many fronts, including counterterrorism. “We’re training their National Guard, we’re doing security plans and training for oil terminals and other facilities, and we’re implementing one of the biggest arms deals in history,” said Thomas W. Lippman, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute who has written extensively on American-Saudi relations.
And despite all the talk of decreasing reliance on Saudi oil, the Saudis remain a crucial producer for world markets.
But none of this can obscure a fundamental split in perspectives toward the Geneva accord. The Saudis see the nuclear file as one front in a sectarian proxy war — centered in Syria — that will shape the Middle East for decades to come, pitting them against their ancient rival.
“To the Saudis, the Iranian nuclear program and the Syria war are parts of a single conflict,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton. “One well-placed Saudi told me, ‘If we don’t do this in Syria, we’ll be fighting them next inside the kingdom.’ ”
How the Saudis propose to win the struggle for Syria is not clear. Already, their expanded support for Islamist rebel fighters in Syria — and the widespread assumption that they are linked to the jihadist groups fighting there — has elevated tensions across the region. After a double suicide bombing killed 23 people outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut last Tuesday, the Arab news media was full of panicky reports that this was a Saudi “message” to Iran before the nuclear talks in Geneva. A day later, a Shiite group in Iraq claimed responsibility for mortars fired into Saudi Arabia near the border between the two countries.
The Saudi-owned news media has bubbled with vitriol in recent days. One prominent columnist, Tareq al-Homayed, sarcastically compared President Obama to Mother Teresa, “turning his right and left cheeks to his opponents in hopes of reconciliation.”
American efforts to assuage these anxieties, including Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Riyadh earlier this month, have had little effect.
The Saudis have already broadcast their discontent about the Iran agreement, and America’s Syria policy, by refusing their newly won seat on the United Nations Security Council last month. It was a gesture that many analysts ridiculed as self-defeating.
Beyond such gestures, it is not clear that the Saudis can do much. The Obama administration has made fairly clear that it is not overly worried about Saudi discontent, because the Saudis have no one else to turn to for protection from Iran.
The Saudis have increased their support for Syrian rebel groups in the past two months, including some Islamist groups that are not part of the secular American-backed coalition.
“They are working with some people who make us squeamish,” said one United States official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But they’re effective, they’re the real deal. These are Islamists who foresee a Syria where Alawites and Christians are tolerated minorities, but at least they’re not enemies to be slaughtered.”
In its most feverish form, the Saudis’ anxiety is not just that the United States will leave them more exposed to Iran, but that it will reach a reconciliation and ultimately anoint Iran as the central American ally in the region. As the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh put it recently in an unsigned column: “The Geneva negotiations are just a prelude to a new chapter of convergence” between the United States and Iran.
That may seem far-fetched in light of the ferocious and entrenched anti-Americanism of the Iranian government. But the Saudi king and his ministers have not forgotten the days of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, who cherished his status as America’s great friend in the region.
“The Saudis are feeling surrounded by Iranian influence — in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Bahrain,” said Richard W. Murphy, a retired American ambassador who spent decades in the Middle East. “It’s a hard state of mind to deal with, a rivalry with ancient roots — a blood feud operating in the 21st century.”