Though both Iran and the U.S. share an enemy, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday there is no connection between the talks on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and the fight against the Islamic State, also referred to as ISIL or ISIS.
“The nuclear negotiation is a wholly separate issue from actions regarding ISIL,” Harf said. “That has in no way changed. And we will not be coordinating military action with Iran.”
The Islamic State is composed of radical Sunni Muslims, while Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite Muslim nations. The U.S. military has launched airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State while Iranian-trained Shiite militias have attacked the extremists on the ground.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif linked Iran’s role in countering the Islamic State group to the nuclear talks in an interview with The National Journal on Sept. 17. Zarif implied that because U.S. sanctions have not prevented Iran from advancing its nuclear program, the only U.S. alternative to do that is war, which he said would be a mistake at a time when Iran is helping to protect U.S. allies against radicals.
The United States and other Western nations contend Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons and is not for electricity and medical purposes, as Iran claims. The talks that resumed last week are aimed at ensuring Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful in return for removing U.S. and international sanctions. World powers and Iran have imposed a Nov. 25 deadline to complete the talks.
Western negotiators want to reduce Iran’s uranium processing capacity, alter a heavy water reactor at Arak so it could not produce plutonium for a bomb and gain unfettered inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites. Iran wants to remove crippling economic sanctions while continuing production of uranium fuel through a process that can also produce fuel for a bomb.
The Associated Press on Monday, citing unnamed diplomats, said Tehran is again rejecting U.S. demands that it convert its heavily fortified Fordow uranium processing site built under a mountain. Iranian officials had earlier said they might accept the idea of converting Fordow for a new purpose. But on Monday they cited an Israeli drone that Iran says it shot down in August near another processing site as evidence that Iran needs to enrich uranium in a hardened site, diplomats told the AP.
That tougher stance followed an apparent concession in the talks by U.S. negotiators: They offered to allow Iran to disconnect the pipes between thousands of machines used to process uranium fuel rather than fully dismantle the machines, as the U.S. has demanded in the past.
Disconnecting the pipes is consistent with the U.S. goal of increasing the time it would take Iran to produce a bomb if it were to suddenly decide to break a nuclear agreement, according to a senior U.S. administration official. That is because reassembling the pipes is a complex and time-consuming process, said the official who did not want to be named because details of the negotiations are supposed to be private.
Michael Doran, a former National Security Council official under President George W. Bush, said the State Department denial of linkage between the talks and Iran’s help in fighting the Islamic State is “very difficult to believe.”
“To Iran, that looks like “Obama’s back is to the wall because of ISIS and (they) have more leverage on him than ever before,” said Doran, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
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