The research department of Israeli Military Intelligence now believes that a permanent agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely before the November 24 deadline. According to a senior Israeli official who was speaking on condition of anonymity, the assessment is that even if a deal is not reached by Monday between Iran and the six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – the talks would not collapse. Instead, it is highly likely that the deadline would be extended further.
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In recent months MI had expected that a breakthrough leading to a final agreement by November 24 was highly probable. The Iran hands in the research department changed their assessment, however, after the meeting earlier this month in Oman between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief representative Catherine Ashton.
The senior official said the new assessment was expressed in a white paper issued by the department this week. MI presented two possible scenarios. In the first, Iran and the six nations will agree on extending the talks for a number of months. In the second, a framework document will be drawn up, spelling out the issues on which agreement has already been reached, specific measures the parties will take to implement the agreement on these issues and the setting of a new time frame for renewing the negotiations until the unresolved issues are resolved.
The MI assessment accords with remarks made Wednesday by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who expressed doubt about the possibility of concluding a deal by Monday.
“I’m not optimistic that we can get everything done by Monday,” Hammond was quoted in the Guardian as telling reporters in Riga, Latvia, a few hours after meeting with Kerry in London, “but I think if we make some significant movement we may be able to find a way of extending the deadline to allow us to get to the final deal if we’re making good progress in the right direction.”
The official position of the Obama administration is that an extension of the deadline is not currently on the table and is not even being discussed among the P5+1 group. Speaking after a meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris yesterday, Kerry said, “We have not talked about the ingredients of an extension or — we’re talking about getting an agreement.”
But the secretary of state did not reject the possibility that in the final hours counting down to the deadline on Monday, the target could change.
“And look, if you get to the final hour and you’re in need of having to look at alternatives or something, we’ll look at them,” Kerry said in Paris. “I’m not telling you we’re not going to look at something. But we’re not looking at them, not now. This is — we’re driving towards what we believe is the outline of an agreement that we think we can have.”
Since Tuesday there have been intensive discussions between the Iranian and the P5+1 negotiating teams. In addition to meeting with Hammond and Fabius in London and Pari over the past two days, Kerry also held meetings with his Saudi and Omani counterparts. He actually met twice with the Omani foreign ministers, Yusuf bin Alawi, whose country is helping to mediate between Iran and the United States. In a visit to Iran a few days ago, Bin Alawi urged the Iranians to demonstrate flexibility in order to reach a breakthrough in the talks.
Last night Kerry arrived in Vienna, in order to follow the talks from up close. He will take part in the negotiations in the hope of achieving a last-minute breakthrough. Shortly after touching down in Austria he conducted a joint meeting with Javad Zarif and Ashton, and is expected to hold additional meetings today. It’s not yet clear whether Kerry will remain in Vienna through Monday or return to Washington.
The foreign ministers of Britain and France will join the talks in Vienna on Friday. Germany's foreign minister will arrive on Saturday.