On Monday, world powers, led by the United States, have tentatively agreed with Iran to extend negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. Monday was the deadline previously set by negotiators to reach an agreement for Iran to set limits on its nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions.Representatives from world powers have been sitting down with Iran’s nuclear negotiators in Vienna since last Thursday in a last ditch effort to meet the November 24th deadline. However, after failing to close significant gaps between both sides, they are now expecting to extend the talks for the second time this year. Foreign ministers from the P5+1 countries, which include the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany, are attempting to finalize a preliminary deal achieved last year in Geneva.
By Sunday night, while some information suggested that an extension is inevitable, UK’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insisted that the group was still trying to focus on the last push and reach some sort of deal with Iran before the deadline on Monday.
“Of course, if we’re not able to do that, we will then look at where we’re going from there,” said Mr. Hammond in an interview with BBC.
According to a senior US State Department official, the world powers lined up a range of options that include extension of the nuclear talks. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that an agreement could have been within reach if the West had not been making excessive demands on Iran’s nuclear stockpile and centrifuge reduction.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has been engaged in several rounds of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif since last Thursday, but the negotiations were not quite smooth. Last Friday, Zarif originally planned to leave for Tehran to consult the Iranian leadership but reversed his decision due to insufficient ideas to take to Tehran. With American officials acknowledging that both sides could not reach a deal before Monday’s deadline, extending the talk seemed the most likely outcome.
“Our focus remains on taking steps forward toward an agreement, but it’s only natural that just over 24 hours from the deadline, we are discussing a range of options,” said an anonymous American State Department official in an interview with the New York Times. “An extension is one of the options. It should come as no surprise that we are also engaged in a discussion of the options with the Iranians.”
President Obama also acknowledged that significant gaps remain in the negotiations, and he made it clear that the United States and its allies will not give in to Iran’s demand of lifting economic sanctions swiftly and permanently. The two sides have been having trouble reaching a deal on how many nuclear facilities, including uranium stockpiles and centrifuges, can Iran retain and how should the nuclear-related sanctions be lifted. However, President Obama remains hopeful about how an agreement can potentially improve Iran’s relationship with the US and the world.
“What a deal would do,” said President Obama in an interview with the New York Times,” is take a big piece of business of the table and perhaps begin a long process in which the relationship not just between Iran and us but the relationship between Iran and the world, and the region, begins to change.”
However, US allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, remain skeptical about how an agreement can change the power relation in the Middle East. They worry that Iran would be able to secretly maintain ability to produce nuclear weapons once sanctions are lifted. Republican and some Democratic lawmakers warn that additional sanctions can be delivered if no constructive provisions emerged from this round of talks.
During course of the negotiations, other external factors have driven the US and Iran closer. The two nations have had a rocky relationship in the past, with former US President George W. Bush calling Iran part of an “axis of evil.” However, the Islamic State, a vicious militant group that has recently taken control over parts of Iraq and Syria, is an enemy to Iran and US interests.
According to NPR, the exact length of the extension the negotiators are giving themselves is not clear, but could last from three to eight months. The negotiators are expected to reconvene next month.
(Feature photo of the foreign ministers of the Iran nuclear discussion participants, in November 2013.)