The US is relentlessly, desperately, seeking a deal with the Iranians, even though the Iran nuclear talks deadline has long passed and significant differences remain.
US President Barack Obama has ordered his negotiating team to push off the deadline – again – to Thursday. Reports from Lausanne on the Iran nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 indicate that no agreement is in sight, and even the Iranians are beginning to sound less positive.
Iran and the six world powers initially stated that progress had been made and therefore they pushed on beyond the March 31 deadline. However, as differences persisted into late Wednesday, the State Department announced that Secretary of State John Kerry was postponing his departure and would remain until at least Thursday morning.
At around 6 a.m. local time Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tweeted that the talks had broken after an all-night session and would resume in a few hours.
The talks, the latest round in more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear aspirations, hit the week-long mark on Thursday, with diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and Germany scrambling to reach a framework accord with Iran.
Negotiators Facing a ‘Tough Struggle’
“We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding,” Harf said when announcing Kerry’s decision to stay in Switzerland.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiators were still facing a “tough struggle” and that the world powers have asked the Iranians to bring to the meeting new proposals and ideas with which to find solutions for the remaining differences.
A French diplomat said that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was heading for Lausanne less than a day after he had left Switzerland. The diplomat referred to the minister’s comments earlier in the day, indicating that he would return if there were chances for a deal.
At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the opposing negotiating partners, particularly the US, of having “defective” political will in the talks.
“I’ve always said that an agreement and pressure do not go together, they are mutually exclusive,” he told reporters. “So our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure.” Up until this point, Zarif had maintained a positive tone when relating to the talks.
The negotiators’ goal is still to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet these goals.
Iran has pushed back, demanding a general statement with few specifics. This is politically unpalatable for the Obama administration, which must convince a skeptical Congress that progress was made.
By blowing through self-imposed deadlines, Obama risks further hostility from congressmen, Republicans and Democrats, who had threatened to take matters into their own hands regarding the Iranian nuclear threat if they determine that the president was too conciliatory.
The Senate warned that it would impose new sanctions on Iran if the talks fail.
Giving Iran the Upper Hand?
Experts on negotiations have opined that Obama’s failure to uphold the deadline gives the Iranians the upper hand, as it indicates that any framework is not binding and of no significance. Furthermore, it appears that the Americans are pressed to achieve an agreement, when it is the Iranians who are dealing with economic sanctions.
“It is clear, the negotiations are not going well,” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a statement. “At every step, the Iranians appear intent on retaining the capacity to achieve a nuclear weapon.”
Zarif insisted the result of this round of talks “will not be more than a statement.” But a senior Western official said they would not accept a document that contained no details.
Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that one of the remaining differences concerned the pace of the sanctions relief, but he suggested some softening of Tehran’s long-term insistence that all sanctions be lifted immediately once a final deal takes effect.
Araghchi also rejected US demands for strict controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment-related research and development, saying such activities “should continue.”
The US and its negotiating partners want to limit Iranian efforts to improve the performance of their centrifuges that enrich uranium, because advancing the technology could hasten Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has campaigned tirelessly for months against the emerging agreement, said on Wednesday that “The concessions offered to Iran in Lausanne would ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world.” He demanded that the international community “insist on a better deal.” “A better deal would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. A better deal would link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior. Iran must stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world and stop its threats to annihilate Israel. That should be non-negotiable, and that’s the deal that the world powers must insist upon.”