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Iran/negotiations in Geneva

Published on November 13, 2013
Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1 (excerpts)

Paris, November 11, 2013

Q. – In Geneva, France rejected the agreement with Iran on its nuclear programme. What guarantees do you need to reach a possible agreement?

THE MINISTER – (…) The Iranian nuclear programme is an absolutely major issue for regional security and global security.

What’s our position – not only France’s but also that of the five permanent members of the Security Council and of the international community? Our position is as follows: Iran is perfectly entitled to use civilian nuclear energy, but the atomic bomb, no. That underpins everything. An atomic bomb for the Iranians would represent a danger for the region – other countries would have, obtain, an atomic bomb – and for the whole world. So that’s the line.

Q. – Are you reassured by the Iranians’ negotiation in Geneva or not? Does it mean that, behind their ideas of negotiation, they were thinking: “the bomb”?

THE MINISTER – There was progress, that’s absolutely clear, but it wasn’t possible to go all the way. The negotiations are continuing: in nine days’ time our political directors will be meeting in Geneva again. There’s a text on the table and it’s not solely a French text. This text was accepted by what’s called the 5+1! (…)

Q. – But differences were noted between the 5+1. What are they about?

THE MINISTER – We’ll get to that. I don’t want to go into every detail, because we’re committed – and I respect those instructions – not to being too detailed, because the negotiations are continuing. But there are two or three points on which we – when I say “we” I mean six countries in particular: China, the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia and France – (…) there are two or three points that are still causing difficulties with the Iranians; I hope those difficulties will be overcome.

Let me take two or three of them. There’s an issue that often appears in the press (…) the Arak reactor. What are we talking about? There are different types of reactor, and this Arak reactor, which isn’t yet finished, is a so-called heavy water reactor. Now, this reactor produces very significant amounts of plutonium; it’s an extreme case of proliferation, and if it were completed, if it were to operate, it would enable Iran to build one atom bomb a year. We say measures must be taken to ensure the Arak reactor can’t be activated as was planned and can’t lead to an atomic bomb; that’s one point. And on that, of course, our colleagues are with us, and the Iranians still have to make an effort.

There’s a second, very important issue, namely uranium enrichment. Let’s be clear on this too. Uranium can be enriched to different percentages. When it’s to 3% or 5% it doesn’t pose too much of a problem. When it’s to 20%, as is the case with much of the Iranian stockpile, it very quickly enables you to move to 90%, and at 90% you can make an atomic bomb. (…)

And then there’s a more general question: how do we effectively tackle the enrichment issue so that the Iranians – I’m coming back to my initial point – can use civilian nuclear energy but not move towards an atomic bomb?

Q. – Or else how long might it take for Iran to have its bomb?

THE MINISTER – If we don’t reach an agreement, it will pose a significant problem a few months from now! (…) We absolutely all agree! Mrs Ashton, who is the European High Representative and is conducting all our negotiations, played a very important role, which I want to emphasize. John Kerry, with his usual energy, got things to move forward a great deal, and we’re not far off an agreement with the Iranians (…).

Q. – It’s often said that France is adopting an aggressive strategy of mistrust at a time when there might be a policy of openness…

THE MINISTER – No. We’re being firm, we aren’t impervious. (…)

Q. – Precisely, you had a private discussion with Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister…

THE MINISTER – Of course! Of course!

Q. – Do you, today, believe in Tehran’s goodwill and overtures?

THE MINISTER – I think there’s been a big change with President Rouhani’s election, a change which incidentally is largely linked to the sanctions which were adopted, since they’re putting Iran in a difficult situation. So Iran – at any rate, President Rouhani and Mr Zarif and many others – want a change. We agree with this and are pleased about it, but the change must be guaranteed and this is what we’re working on.

Q. – Are you saying this morning that the next meeting, in Geneva on 20 November – i.e. the day after your visit to Israel with President Hollande – may be decisive? Could the agreement be concluded on the 20th?

THE MINISTER – I hope so! Maybe not on the 20th, because there are the political directors [meeting first] and then the ministers will have to confirm everything, but we’re not far off an agreement. (…)./.

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