A senior State Department official in Vienna told reporters that, after hours of talks on Wednesday, the hangup keeping Iran and the P5+1 from arriving at a nuclear deal remains “sort of everything.”
“We know where we are headed. We know what we each want the objective to be and we’re trying to narrow those gaps. But we have to do so in a way that ensures that all of the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down,” the official said on background, adding there are “possible” solutions on the horizon in regard to the Arak heavy water reactor and “many elements” to be dealt with including uranium enrichment at Natanz and Fordow.
“And then we want to make sure we shut down the covert path, and that is largely done through very specific and very meaningful and concrete verification and monitoring mechanisms. And each one of these pathways has layers and layers of detail, and you have to understand every one of those layers to know whether what you think you’ve gotten really works.”
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, met late into the evening “about whether Iran is willing to take verifiable actions to show the world that their program is indeed exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Iran also met separately with EU representatives. The State Department official said Iran “thinks it’s important to meet with the United States from time to time because not only do we hold a number of the sanctions that are of greatest interest to them, but we – they are also very interested in our views on what needs to be accomplished.”
The official compared the negotiations to “an amoeba that sort of moves in and out until all of the pieces lock into place.”
“We’ve been chipping away at some of the issues. Everyone has put ideas on the table to see if we can move the ball forward. We have and continue to make some progress, but there is still a substantial amount of work to be done.”
Kerry said this week that he doesn’t know if the administration will extend the deadline — yet again — for an agreement by Nov. 24.
He quipped at a press availability in Paris on Tuesday that he’s “glad that all the pundits and speculators are doubting whether or not” a nuclear deal with Iran “can be reached” by the target date.
The official today said they’re keeping an eye on Nov. 24 because “if you take the pressure off yourself, then you never have to make hard decisions.”
“And deadlines help people to make hard decisions, and there are hard decisions to be made here. And we must. So we are all keeping the pressure on ourselves, and that includes Iran,” the official continued.
“In terms of mood, in a professional way, we all know each other pretty well now. You can tell when the deputy foreign minister jokes. He reads the transcripts of these backgrounders, and when he can joke, ‘Why don’t you just hand over the last one? You’re going to say the same thing,’ it’s reached a level of we know each other well enough to make jokes.”
The State Department official acknowledged that joking around with the Iranians “will not get an agreement done.”
Zarif said today that “experts” from Iran and the P5+1 “will discuss issues related to their differences in the negotiation within the next one or two weeks.”
“There are outstanding differences, but it doesn’t mean that these differences cannot be resolved,” Zarif told reporters, according to Fars News Agency. “…Everyone believes that this issue can be settled since, actually, Iran’s nuclear program is a peaceful program and a reality on the ground.”
The State Department official wouldn’t put a number on how far along they are in negotiations.
“You can’t put a percentage on it, because even if you thought you were 75 percent of the way or even 98 percent of the way there, that last two percent may be the most important 2 percent there is, may be the glue that puts it all together. So can’t put a percentage on it.”