With just six days before the deadline, Iran's nuclear talks seem to be faltering as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna on Sunday.
Kerry had his work cut out for him. As he worked to mend ties with Germany in its espionage dispute with the U.S. and handle the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza, Kerry also took on face-to-face meetings with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif with a ticking clock behind them. By the day's end, no breakthrough had been produced and representatives from the six countries negotiating with Iran said that big hurdles remained.
The expiration of the interim deal
After decades of tense relations and mistrust, Iran and the United States (as part of the P5+1 Group) surprised the world by managing to secure an interim deal last fall that would ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for suspending work on its nuclear program. July 20 was the date set for the deal to expire. And here we are.
While there have been some slight hints that discussions could extend beyond the deadline, the P5+1 group seems keen on getting a deal done by July 20.
As the Associated Press noted:
Lower-ranking officials represented both Russia and China, possibly reflecting their view even before Sunday that talks past July 20 are unavoidable.
But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi suggested any extension would be relatively short, saying "there is not much willingness" by either side to go a full six months. He, too, earlier spoke of "huge and deep differences."
"There is a huge gap"
As reported, several gaps remain between the six countries and Iran, including major questions about the level to which Iran can enrich its uranium. Today, things got interesting.
Word started to spread about a speech given several thousand miles east of Vienna, in which Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei emphasized the need for Iran to enrich its uranium capacity at the very moment that the Iranian nuclear delegation and the P5+1 Group were bargaining to reduce it.
As the news broke, the words "scuttle" and "undermine" began floating:
Basically looks like Khamenei cut Zarif and co at the knees: http://t.co/9CMVgKD6dX— Jordan Hirsch (@jordanchirsch) July 14, 2014
Classic Khamenei: 1) Express support for negotiations 2) Undermine negotiators by setting impossible red lines. http://t.co/7dhb5BIzO9— Karim Sadjadpour (@ksadjadpour) July 14, 2014
Does Iran want a deal?
Are these negotiating tactics or reluctance? As Gerald Seib points out (paywall), while the U.S.-led sanctions imposed by the international community had a pretty devastating bite, all the jockeying in Vienna is for naught if Iran doesn't want a deal:
But there is a difference between wanting a deal and considering one essential. Would economic relief be simply convenient, or does Iran consider failure to achieve it an existential threat to the regime? The negotiations won't succeed unless Iran wants a deal more than its international interlocutors do. And there's probably no way to know for sure exactly how much urgency Iran attaches to a deal until talks reach their 11th hour.
We'll find out soon enough.