When the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) failed to reach an interim agreement with Iran on the weekend to rein in its uranium enrichment program, many observers blamed France for making some last-minute demands. Others credited Israel with persuading some of the negotiators to back away from what the Jewish state called a bad deal.
However, neither party was responsible, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It was Iran itself that walked away from the offer.
"The P5+1 was unified on Saturday when we presented our proposal to the Iranians," said Mr. Kerry, "But Iran couldn't take it."
While it has not been revealed exactly what constituted a deal breaker for Tehran, it appears to have revolved around Iran's insistence that it has an inalienable right to enrich uranium on its own soil.
No nation has an "existing right to enrich," Mr. Kerry said Monday in Abu Dhabi, where he was assuring worried Gulf allies that Iran was not being given a free ride to develop nuclear weapons.
Recently elected Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, a relative moderate, says he is committed to negotiating an end to international sanctions against his country for refusing to abide by international safeguards against developing nuclear weapons. But any compromises Iran makes, he says, must not impugn his country's national right to enrich uranium.
Relinquishing that right is "a red line" that Iran will not cross, he said.
In a separate but related development, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced Monday in Tehran that Iran had agreed on a "road map for co-operation" that would allow limited inspections of some contentious sites in the country's extensive nuclear program. Among them is a heavy-water reactor under construction in Arak, southwest of Tehran, as well as a uranium mine in Gachin, in the far south.
France has said the Arak reactor is a particular concern because the plutonium created as a byproduct by the facility would provide further material for nuclear weapons.
The decision to permit the "managed access" by inspectors was taken "to show Iran's goodwill," said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. "We wanted to show that we are ready and willing to close the false nuclear file."
But the agreement does not give the IAEA access to a large military site called Parchin, south of Tehran, which is suspected of conducting high-explosives testing.
The road map "is an important step forward" said IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano, "but much more needs to be done."
A sudden flurry of diplomatic activity late last week had given an impression that an interim deal was imminent to limit Iranian enrichment in exchange for limited reductions of sanctions against Iran. Mr. Kerry, as well as foreign ministers from France, Britain, Russia and Germany flew to Geneva to join the negotiations to no avail.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to have worked the phones all weekend urging ministers in several of the countries to kill the deal, an effort that drew a sharp rebuke from Mr. Kerry on Monday.
The Israeli Prime Minister "needs to recognize that no agreement" with Iran has been reached and his opposition is premature. "The time to oppose [a deal] is when you see what it is," Mr. Kerry told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
"We are not blind, and I don't think we're stupid," Mr. Kerry said Sunday in response to Mr. Netanyahu's earlier comments that Iran was getting "the deal of the century." The U.S Secretary of State added: "I think we have a pretty strong sense of how to measure whether or not we are acting in the interests of our country and of the globe."