VIENNA – The US is “absolutely prepared to call an end” to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear work if Tehran does not make a series of “tough” political choices, quickly, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.
But the US is not walking out yet, after blowing through its third deadline for those talks in just two weeks.
Kerry said that neither he, nor President Barack Obama, nor their allies in the P5+1 powers (Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) are willing to rush to complete a nuclear deal that would face a “test for decades.”
Jpost reporter in Vienna answers readers' questions on Iran talks
Some of the toughest issues that had faced negotiators in recent days have been largely resolved, he said. But some remain as sticking points, he continued.
“I have said many times and as I discussed with President Obama last night, we are not going to sit at the negotiating table forever,” Kerry said. But “we also recognize that we shouldn’t get up and leave simply because the clock strikes midnight.”
“And I emphasize, given that the work here is incredibly technical and that the stakes are very, very high, we will not rush and we will not be rushed,” he continued.
“If, in the end, we are able to reach a deal, it has to be one that can withstand the test of time.”
Also addressing a weary press, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that he had traveled back to Vienna for the final 100 meters of a marathon negotiation.
He, too, said the Iranians had choices to make. But no one specified which issues remain unresolved. Negotiations were expected to go through the night.
That means that the US Congress would now have 60 days to review any agreement that emerges from Vienna.
On Twitter, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would not “rush” to get the job done.
“You can’t change horses in the middle of a stream,” he wrote.
And moments later, from the balcony of the Palais Coburg where talks are taking place, he said he would stay in the Austrian capital for “as long as it takes” to get the job done.
The negotiations were about to enter their 15th straight day on Friday.
Earlier in the day, a Western diplomat said the talks were stuck on just five issues at most, including Iran’s insistence that a United Nations arms embargo be lifted along with sanctions directly related to its nuclear program.
Russia seeks to sell conventional weapons systems to Iran and publicly supports lifting the embargo.
In the Russian city of Ufa on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani thanked President Vladimir Putin for his efforts to further the negotiations.
“Western powers have accepted that it is impossible to stop Iran’s scientific progress,” Rouhani said. He was in Russia for the annual BRICS summit of the heads of state of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and characterized the nuclear talks as having entered their “final stages.”
Iranian media produced reports at a furious pace throughout the day, beginning with a “sourced” assertion that a deal was imminent.
“Ninety-six percent” of all annexes to the deal were complete, state-run outlets reported. They later said that an agreement was unlikely by the end of the day.
Obama teleconferenced with his team in Vienna to provide it with guidance on Wednesday afternoon. He agreed the talks could not drag on forever, Kerry said.
And after Kerry’s remarks, Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the talks would not go on for “weeks” more.
“There still continue to be some obstacles to reaching that final agreement,” he said.
All parties publicly agreed that, regardless of the specific date and time, the moment has come to determine whether closing an agreement is possible.
Despite the ups and downs and missed deadlines, Jerusalem believes that world powers will soon sign an agreement that paves Iran’s path to nuclear weapons, senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Thursday.
Obama told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday night that the chances of reaching a deal were “less than 50 percent.” But a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said Jerusalem was “unimpressed” by assessments that the odds of reaching a deal are low.
“The nearly complete collapse of the P5+1’s positions in the interim agreement, in the Lausanne framework and in the current talks almost guarantees that the sides will reach a deal and the world will face a nuclear armed terrorist state,” the official said.
Not only that, the official added, but this “terrorist state” of the Islamic Republic will “receive a cash bonanza of hundreds of billions of dollars to fund its aggression and terror.”
Among the redlines that have already been crossed, the official said, were the demands that Iran allow inspections everywhere, and at any time, as well as that the lifting of sanctions will be based on Iran fulfilling its commitments under the accord.
One final point of contention that has emerged is Tehran’s demand that a UN embargo on conventional weapons be lifted.
Since the world powers have already made so many concessions to Iran, one Israeli official said, even if they get Tehran to back down on this point it will be meaningless, because so many other redlines have been crossed.
Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, in a conference call on Thursday organized by the American Jewish Congress, said a delay in the negotiations – giving the US Congress 60 days, not 30 days, to review an agreement – is in Israel’s interests and “is something that would be welcomed” by Jerusalem.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report from Jerusalem.