US President Barack Obama has said that nuclear talks with Iran presented the “best opportunity in decades” for the two nations to transform their long-strained ties, amidst reports that negotiations for a much-awaited deal have entered its last phase.
“This year, we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries,” he said in a message to mark the Persian new year festival of Nowruz.
Speaking directly to the Iranian people and their leaders, Obama said the days and weeks ahead will be critical.
“Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain. And there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution,” he said, without referring to any country or individual.
“My message to you — the people of Iran — is that,together, we have to speak up for the future we seek,” he said hours after Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif hailed “progress” in the talks.
“As you gather around the Nowruz table — from Tehran to Shiraz to Tabriz, from the coasts of the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf — you’re giving thanks for your blessings and looking ahead to the future,” Obama said.
The US and Iran have no diplomatic relations since 1979 Iranian revolution and seizure of US embassy in Tehran.
“Just over a year ago, we reached an initial understanding regarding Iran’s nuclear program. And both sides have kept our commitments. Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and even rolled it back in some areas,” he said.
“The international community, including the US, has provided Iran with some relief from sanctions. Now, our diplomats — and our scientists — are engaged in negotiations in the hopes of finding a comprehensive solution that resolvesthe world’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear programme,” he said.
Obama said he believe that the two countries should be able to resolve this issue peacefully, with diplomacy.
“Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President (Hassan) Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon,” Obama recalled.
“Together with the international community, the US has said that Iran should have access to peaceful nuclear energy,consistent with Iran’s international obligations. So there is a way for Iran — if it is willing to take meaningful, verifiable steps — to assure the world that its nuclear program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes only,” he added.
The P5+1 – China, Russia, the UK, the US, France and Germany – are trying to broker a deal with Iran to end standoff over its nuclear programme. Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
Obama cautioned Iranian leaders, saying if they fail to agree to a reasonable deal, they will remain isolated from the world, causing hardship for Iranians.
“On the other hand, if Iran’s leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path — the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people. More trade and ties with the world. More foreign investment and jobs,including for young Iranians,” he said.
In other words, he said, a nuclear deal now can help open the door to a brighter future for Iranians, who, as heirs to a great civilisation, have so much to give to the world.
“This is what’s at stake today. And this moment may not come again soon. I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, the White House refuted reports that the draft of the nuclear deal is in circulation in Geneva, where talks are currently being held.
“I can tell you that that report is not accurate, that there is no such draft document that’s being circulated,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
“I can tell you that those bilateral meetings between the US and our Iranian counterparts have been difficult but constructive,” he said yesterday.
On the technical side, the talks have been professional and fruitful in terms of identifying the technical issues, clarifying them, sharpening them, and looking at the options on the table for a potential agreement, he said.
“But I don’t have a particularly detailed readout of those ongoing discussions other than to assure that those reports are not true,” he added.
“These negotiations are at a place where nothing isagreed until everything is agreed to,” Earnest said.
“So to start floating out that there are certain aspects of the agreement that may be on a draft resolution or that may be agreed to is counterproductive to the negotiations, and in this instance not accurate,” he said.
Earnest said the US and its international partners are seeking commitments from the Iranians that they will submit to a very intrusive set of inspections, and in an exchange for those specific commitments, the international community will begin to waive certain elements of the sanctions regime that’s been in place against the Iranians and had a devastating impact on their economy.
“So the pace and scope and extent of that sanctions relief is something that is being negotiated in a very detailed fashion in Switzerland, so I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” he added.