As expected, talks between the western powers and Iran over its nuclear program will miss the June 30 deadline for the conclusion of negotiations. There are many issues still outstanding that need to be settled, with Iran recently drawing several red lines that have complicated the process enormously.
Iranian media said Mohammed Javad Zarif’s trip was planned in advance. Still, the fact that he was leaving the talks so close to the Tuesday deadline reflected his need to get instructions on how to proceed on issues where the sides remain apart — among them how much access Tehran should give to U.N. experts monitoring his country’s compliance to any deal.
The United States insists on more intrusive access than Iran is ready to give. With these and other disputes still unresolved the likelihood that the Tuesday target deadline for an Iran nuclear deal could slip was increasingly growing even before the U.S. confirmation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Vienna for their third encounter since Saturday. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius are also in Vienna, and their Russian and British counterparts were to join later. China was sending a deputy foreign minister in a building diplomatic effort to wrap up the negotiations.
For weeks, all seven nations at the negotiating table insisted that Tuesday remains the formal deadline for a deal. But with time running out, a senior U.S. official acknowledged that was unrealistic.
“Given the dates, and that we have some work to do … the parties are planning to remain in Vienna beyond June 30 to continue working,” said the official, who demanded anonymity in line with State Department practice.
Asked about the chances for a deal, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, told reporters: “It’s going to be tough … but not impossible.”
Steinmeier avoided reporters but told German media earlier: “I am convinced that if there is no agreement, everyone loses.”
“Iran would remain isolated. A new arms race in a region that is already riven by conflict could be the dramatic consequence.”
Both sides recognize that there is leeway to extend to July 9. As part of an agreement with the U.S. Congress, lawmakers then have 30 days to review the deal before suspending congressional sanctions.
But postponement beyond that would double the congressional review period to 60 days, giving both Iranian and U.S. critics more time to work on undermining an agreement.
I don’t think Obama cares what Congress says. If an agreement is reached, the ultimate arbiter will be the UN Security Council. If Congress were to vote the deal down, Obama would say “thanks, but I’ve got this covered” and get the SC to approve the deal. The congressional role is advisory only, giving the president the option of ignoring them if he wishes.
The real question is how much of a cave-in to Iranian red lines the U.S. will agree to. Not being able to inspect military installations, as Iran insists, would almost certainly lead to widespread opposition not just in the U.S., but also in France, which has threatened to walk from the talks unless there is a strict inspections regime. And the president’s continued insistence that some sanctions on Iran be maintained for years will probably be negotiated away in favor of something approaching immediate lifting of most of the important sanctions on Iran’s financial and oil industries.
The extra time for negotiations won’t matter if it simply means more time for an American surrender. Kerry and Obama will do anything to get a deal and that’s what should worry everyone who thinks this is a bad idea.