VIENNA -- American delegates negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program have traveled to Austria eighteen times over the last two years. They have logged hundreds of thousands of air miles. And they are not happy with criticism that they are "eager" for an historic agreement at any cost.Speaking to a small group of reporters here in Vienna on Tuesday, one senior administration official said it was "ludicrous" that the team— after engaging in such an intensive, near-constant slog— would force movement on key issues at the very end of that effort."Quite frankly, when people say that we’re rushing to an agreement, I find it somewhat insulting," the official said, "to me, to the team, and to the secretary and to the president."
Indeed, that team has literally camped out here in Vienna— and not always in comfort. Nearly all of the president's negotiators have been living for weeks out of hotel rooms scattered around the city, all some distance from the luxurious Palais Coburg, where the talks themselves are based.They have become one big, happy family. "And that’s really true," the official said, "because we have seen more of each other than our actual families."Their effort ends soon, however, because time is not on their side: The Obama administration now argues that their final push toward a comprehensive agreement— which will govern Iran's nuclear work for 10 to 20 years— requires political decision-making from Iran that will not get any easier.And while the Americans say they are not rushing for the sake of it, the official said that time will make securing a deal more "complicated." When and how the US team departs Vienna, and with what in their hands, seems to be a mystery even to them at this point."Once we leave here," the official explained, "we are in less control of what happens in this negotiation. It gets more complicated, not less complicated. That puts pressure on all of us to make best use of the time and to try to really punch through or find out we can’t." Some of that criticism has come from media pundits, and Israel's government has called for an extension of the talks if one will secure a "better" nuclear deal. But much of the critique has come from Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are expecting a final document in their hands by July 10.Before that date, Congress will have 30 days to review any final nuclear agreement. Beyond it, they will have 60 days."There is no push from Congress to conclude negotiations in the next few days," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-California) said in a statement on Tuesday. "The only one pushing to get this done quickly– and reduce congressional scrutiny– is the Obama administration."The US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany had hoped to seal a comprehensive deal by June 30. Missing that deadline, they extended their effort to July 7, and extended it once again on Tuesday to July 10. They seek to cap, restrict, monitor and partially roll back Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, after toiling with the prospect of a nuclear Iran for over a decade. Tehran wants that relief immediately, and hopes to minimize the intrusiveness of inspections by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, into its future nuclear work."We are responsible negotiators who take the national security of our country very, very seriously, or we wouldn’t put ourselves through all of this," the senior US official said. "And we are going to get the right deal. And we will do it if we can, and if all of the parties at the table can’t make the choices to do that, then we won’t be able to get there."
Jpost reporter in Vienna answers readers" questions on Iran talks