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Did Netanyahu's Capitol Hill Speech Affect Nuclear Talks In Switzerland?


As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked a nuclear deal with Iran in a controversial speech to Congress yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry sat with his Iranian counterpart in Switzerland trying to reach a framework agreement outlining what that deal would look like. Netanyahu's argument that this accord will, quote, "pave the way for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon" has Republicans on Capitol Hill moving up consideration of a bill demanding congressional approval of any agreement. We go now to NPR's Peter Kenyon, who's with the negotiators in Montreux, Switzerland. Good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Is this speech of Netanyahu's in Washington, D.C., having any discernible impact on the talks there in Montreux?

KENYON: Well, not so far. Much of the Iranian reaction has come from elsewhere. Iran's U.N. ambassador argues in The New York Times that alarmist rhetoric is Netanyahu's stock and trade. He notes that he warned in 1992 that Iran would have a nuclear bomb in three to five years. But here the talks continue. They were at it last night, back at the table this morning. And full delegations from the P5-plus-1, the six countries negotiating with Iran, are going to be here tomorrow while Secretary Kerry is in Riyadh reassuring another nervous neighbor of Iran's.

MONTAGNE: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, of course. Well, Netanyahu wants three conditions before a deal with Iran is signed, none of which relate directly to the nuclear issues on the table. Remind us what they are, and are they likely to be part of the talks?

KENYON: Well, Netanyahu said no deal with Iran should be signed before it curtails its regional ambitions, stops supporting proxies in Lebanon, Gaza, that have been designated terrorist groups, and also stops threatening Israel. Those are goals that a lot of people share, but any effort to put those demands on these negotiations now is seen here as leading to the collapse of the talks.

MONTAGNE: And one of the criticisms of Israel's prime minister was that the length of any agreement that is restricting Iran's nuclear program for 10 years, in his view, is just a pause before Tehran resumes pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Does that argument resonate with the negotiators there where you are?

KENYON: Oh, very much so. And it troubles a lot of people. And the duration of the deal has been a prime topic of negotiation. Iran has talked about five to seven years. The U.S. has spoken of 15 to 20. And that question - what if they just wait, restore their economy, and then resume a search for nuclear weapons? - is a very troubling one. The counter argument is would you rather have 10 or more years of tight limits or go back to the past decade when they constructed 20,000 centrifuges? I think that's a debate we'll hear a lot more about in the coming months.

MONTAGNE: And of course this criticism seems to assume that this major agreement with Iran is practically a done deal. So what is the sense there?

KENYON: Officially a long way to go still. But there is a sense of momentum. The German foreign minister says there's been more progress in one year than the past 10. We'll see if a framework deal is announced later this month. And if so, then a final deal will be due by the end of June.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is in Montreux, Switzerland, where negotiations with Iran are taking place. Thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.