Iran Talks Get An Extension

After failing to reach a permanent agreement, the officials representing Iran and the P5+1 in the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna extended the talks for seven more months:

“We have had to conclude it is not possible to get to an agreement by the deadline that was set for today and therefore we will extend the JPOA to June 30, 2015,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters at the end of the talks. He was referring to the so-called Joint Plan of Action, an interim deal agreed between the six and Iran a year ago in Geneva, under which Tehran halted higher level uranium enrichment in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions, including access to some frozen oil revenues abroad.

Hammond said the expectation was that Iran would continue to refrain from sensitive atomic activity. He added that Iran and the powers “made some significant progress” in the latest round of talks, which began last Tuesday in the Austrian capital. Hammond said that there was a clear target to reach a “headline agreement” of substance within the next three months and talks would resume next month.

The failure to meet today’s deadline was not unexpected. Elias Groll and John Hudson look over the sticking points that remain unresolved:

“There are still gaps on some of the major issues, particularly the size of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and the sequence of sanctions relief,” Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, told Foreign Policy. “Both Iran and the United States will need to be flexible and willing to make concessions to overcome the remaining hurdles.” At the moment, American diplomats are refusing to provide a date by which sanctions will be lifted and inspectors can ensure Iran is complying with the deal. … Among the other points of disagreement is how long it will take for Iran to be allowed to freely develop a civilian nuclear infrastructure and how much freedom inspectors will have inside Iran to carry out their work.

Morrissey isn’t surprised:

In reality, the gaps have always been big, and they will remain big as long as Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons. They have played this strategy of using negotiations as stall tactics for more than a decade, after their nuclear-weapons program got exposed in 2003. The Iranians make a big show of holding talks and sometimes even reaching interim agreements, always to find some excuse or provocation to renege or pull out. They then dangle the possibility of talks in order to forestall tougher consequences for their intransigence. Barack Obama and John Kerry were foolish enough to buy this routine as sincere, throwing away the tougher sanctions that forced Iran to deal with West at all.

Time is running out, all right. The Iranians are making sure of that by running out the clock while they finalize their entry into the nuclear-armed state club. They just bought themselves seven more months of time to complete their efforts and deliver a fait accompli. The West is digging its own grave, and Iran is providing the shovels.

The new deadline, of course, means that any prospective deal will come up against the implacable obstacle of the incoming Republican Congress. John Bradshaw encourages Congressional hawks to take a deep breath, think back to the bad old days of negotiating arms control with the Soviets, and not be willfully blind to the benefits of a deal:

Conservative hardliners in Congress say they would support a deal if it guaranteed that Iran would never be able to build a nuclear weapon. This disingenuous claim ignores the fact that the Iranians already have the necessary knowledge to build a weapon. A good agreement can minimize the risks that Iran can clandestinely move toward building a nuclear weapon, and it can provide incentives for the Iranians to step back from the path toward nuclear arms. More thoughtful members of Congress recognize that without a deal Iran can resume activities that can lead to a nuclear weapon, leaving us with only two options: military action or dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran. Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will likely unravel, diminishing pressure on Iran to allow continued intrusive inspections. The world will be more dangerous and unstable in this scenario than it would be if there is a good, verifiable deal that still entails some uncertainties and risks. A little historical perspective can help spark the political courage needed now in Congress to back a deal which will make America safer and prevent an unnecessary war.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is pleased about the extension, mainly because it means there’s no deal yet:

“The right deal that is needed is to dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atomic bombs and only then dismantle the sanctions,” the prime minister continued. “Since that’s not in the offing, this result is better. A lot better. I think Iran should not have any capacity to enrich. There is no right to enrich. What do you need to enrich uranium for if you are not developing an atomic bomb?”

Netanyahu highlighted the fact that in addition to its uranium enrichment program, Iran has also also been developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. “The only reason you build ICBMs is to launch a nuclear warhead,” he said. “So I think everyone agrees that Iran is unabashedly seeking to develop atomic bombs and I think they shouldn’t have the capacity to enrich uranium or to deliver nuclear warheads.”

Larison points out that Bibi and other opponents of a comprehensive agreement are in effectively rooting for their own worst-case scenario:

The failure of negotiations with Iran would not be to the advantage of Israel or any of the Gulf states that claim to be so horrified by a deal. Failure would strengthen Iranian hard-liners, it would likely increase tensions between Iran and many other regional governments, and would leave the path open for the nuclear program’s continued development. Republicans may want to deprive Obama of a major achievement for partisan reasons, but Republican Iran hawks shouldn’t want the negotiations to fail. A deal that imposes significant limits on Iranian enrichment would restrict the Iranian nuclear program in a way that nothing else available could. Despite this, the regional governments and hawks here at home have been demanding conditions for a final deal that can’t possibly be met, and they have declared their hostility to any agreement that could be reached. The only conclusion we can reach from all this is that most of these actors are hostile to any diplomacy with Iran and want to make conflict between the U.S. and Iran more likely.