VIENNA – Talks between Iran and the world powers on a nuclear agreement are expected to continue into the weekend, with both the original deadline for completion and a revised one already having been missed.
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The next 24 hours are critical for the Americans. If agreement is not reached by tonight, the deadline will pass for the Senate to begin reviewing the deal. Any deal brought to the Senate after tonight will face a review period of 60 days, double the previous period, and the Obama administration will face a tough battle getting it approved.
While members of the Iranian delegation have told journalists and Iranian television that a deal is at hand, with the main agreement and four of the five technical addenda already clinched, the tone of Western diplomats has been far more pessimistic.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that three key areas of dispute remain: The procedure for immediately re-imposing sanctions if the Iranians break the agreement, scrutiny of military aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, which is to be carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and defining areas of research that the Iranians would have to suspect for at least a decade.
Another issue that has still not been finalized is the Iranian demand that the arms embargo on Tehran be lifted at the same time as civilian and commercial sanctions. Russia, which is planning significant arms deals with Iran, supports this demand, but the Western powers are dead set against it.
Angry words were reportedly exchanged yesterday at a meeting between the Iranians and all of the foreign ministers, with even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif talking in strident tones.
At one point, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Zarif that if the Iranians had no interest in reaching an agreement, it would be best to end the talks immediately. “Never threaten the Iranians,” Zarif responded, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov adding. “Nor the Russians.”
The exchanges were reportedly leaked by the Iranians to prove to their home audience that they were negotiating toughly for the best possible deal. Zarif subsequently released a statement that the Iranian delegation respects Mogherini and that she has always had a “very positive and constructive role” in the negotiations.
No official meetings at the foreign minister level have been held in the past two days.though unofficial contacts have taken place. Among the seven foreign ministers who took part in the last meeting on Monday, five left on Tuesday with only Kerry and Zarif remaining in Vienna.
Some of the ministers were due to return last night, though the foreign ministers of Russia and China are taking part in a summit in Russia and will only return to Vienna over the weekend, if at all.
One Western diplomat said that experts from all the delegations were holding intense meetings in an attempt to reach an agreement. “We hope within a few days to reach an agreement,” he said, adding that “despite the difficulties, the various delegations are being very careful not to use the word ‘crisis’ to describe the current situation the negotiations.”