'Precipice' awaits world powers as Iran talks enter thirteenth day

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that eight significant issues still remained unresolved.

July 7, 2015 22:14
Iran negotiations

Iran negotiations. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Bound by no deadlines, but running out of patience, diplomats representing world powers failed on Tuesday to resolve several outstanding issues they say are key to a reaching a comprehensive deal that will govern Iran’s nuclear work.

Their inability to close the agreement on Tuesday means they have missed two self-imposed deadlines in just seven days. But time is not on their side, US officials said in the evening hours, as they entered their 13th straight day of negotiations in Austria’s capital.

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One senior US administration official told a small group of reporters in Vienna that the talks were still in their final stretch, despite the fact that the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Russia and China have all departed.
Jpost reporter in Vienna answers readers' questions on Iran talks

“We all knew, when you came down toward the endgame, that the hardest things are left till last,” the official said. “You hope that the weight of the rest of what you’ve accomplished helps you get past those very hard issues. But they are very hard issues.”

“On any given day,” the official continued, “if we feel like we’re just not going to get there, that will be that.”

That moment may soon arrive, regardless of a congressional deadline for a deal on July 10. Negotiators in Vienna have extended an interim nuclear agreement – which has capped the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program since it was reached in November 2013, and which was already extended from June 30 to July 7 – until that day.

If the July 10 deadline is not met, Congress will have until September 7 – 60 days, rather than the 30 days it would have otherwise – to review and vote on any agreement.

But the US team here says it is not focused on that timetable, and is instead determined to clinch the “right” agreement.

“I think the world wants a deal. But that does not mean any deal,” the senior official said. “Wanting a deal and agreeing to a deal are two very different things.” US delegates declined to detail the problems still frustrating negotiators. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that eight significant issues still remained unresolved.

Asked by The Jerusalem Post, the US team said it had “no idea” where that number came from.

But all parties agree that several important sticking points are obstructing a deal. Iranian diplomats said the issues ranged from the wording of United Nations Security Council resolutions to the pacing of sanctions relief.

And France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said Iran’s continued research and development under the agreement was an issue that had not yet been adequately addressed.

These challenges have been topics of negotiation over 18 months of intense, near-constant, highly technical diplomatic efforts. World powers seek to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful, while Tehran seeks immediate sanctions relief.

And new issues, previously unreported in the press, emerged on Tuesday in public forums.

“There is only one big problem in terms of sanctions,” Lavrov told the press corps in Vienna before departing. “It is the problem of a weapons embargo.”

Responding to the concern, the US said it recognized different perspectives within the P5+1 negotiating group.

But “there will be an ongoing restriction on arms, just like there will be ongoing restrictions regarding missiles,” the administration official said. “It will be part of the Security Council resolution.”

Diplomats hope to present a complete text of the agreement, annexes and all, upon adopting the document. That will include a Security Council resolution that will ultimately lift sanctions, as well as one that will codify the deal itself.

Over the past several weeks, Western negotiators have struggled to secure access for the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to Iran’s military sites, in the event that it determines access is necessary to verify the correctness and completeness of Tehran’s future nuclear declarations.

In response to a question from the Post on the matter, the US official suggested this was one sticking point that had largely been resolved.

Arriving at the Palais Coburg, where the talks are taking place, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that the talks had entered their most “difficult” and “tense” phase.

She said the talks would not be extended, and a second US official confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry did not plan to leave without a decisive conclusion to the effort.

“It would be very, very unfortunate if we could not get it done,” the official said. “You always get to a place where you’re at a precipice. You’re either going to pull back from the precipice, or you’re going to go over the cliff.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said as the negotiations were continuing that Israel was “preparing for any scenario, determined to defend ourselves from danger.”

Speaking at the government’s annual memorial ceremony for Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the prime minister quoted exiled Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf as saying that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was “worse than Hitler.”

“If he could, he would destroy the world,” Netanyahu quoted Makhmalbaf as saying.

The film director also said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was “without power, only the spokesman of the supreme leader.”

“These words strengthen what we have known for a long time,” Netanyahu said. “And for that reason, it is necessary to stop Iran in time, before it is too late.”

Netanyahu, the only leader in the world publicly and consistently railing against the emerging agreement, asked how it was possible to trust a state that violated international resolutions time after time.

“How do you grant Iran hundreds of billions of dollars without ensuring that the money does not grease its wheels of terror and expansion?” he asked.

Iran’s aggression was several times more dangerous than that of Islamic State, which was dangerous enough, and the Islamic Republic’s ultimate aim was to “take over the world,” Netanyahu said.

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