Intense talks ahead of deadline for an agreement; extension likely
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and the European Union’s chief negotiator, Catherine Ashton. Their meeting was part of the larger P5+1 discussions that, in their latest form, have lasted for more than a year. The P5+1 consists the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the U.S., the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France) plus Germany.
Selling an agreement will be difficult for both sides. In the U.S. many Democrats and Republicans oppose any deal with Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will need the approval of hard-liners at home, many of whom don’t want any deal with the United States.
By most accounts, one of the main sticking points between the two sides is how much sanction relief Iran would get in an exchange for closing down a significant part of its nuclear program. One of the reasons Washington is reluctant to lift sanctions is Tehran’s refusal to dismantle most of its centrifuges, used for enriching uranium.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Thomas Drayton spoke to Emad Kiyaei, a researcher for the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, and to Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Gevernment, who joined the conversation from Watertown, Massachusetts.
Kiyaei said there are two main issues at hand, one technical and the other political. “On the technical aspect, the two sides have bridged a lot of their differences. There still needs to be a political will for us to be able to push this nuclear deal forward.” He said that neither the U.S. nor Iran genuinely wants this deal to move forward and that delaying it is in their best interests.
Heinonen said that there has been progress over the past year but the biggest problem is defining the practical enrichment needs of Iran.
When asked who would benefit the most from a nuclear deal, Kiyaei said the international community and the region would benefit. “If Iran and the U.S. come to a resolution, it is the key to opening up bilateral relations to discuss an array of issues that are not just in the national interest of Iran but also the United States and regional powers.” He said it would open the possibility of discussions about fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), improving Persian Gulf security and seeking stability in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. He added that the key is ending the decades-long rift in relations between the U.S. and Iran.
Relations have been frosty between the two countries for decades, but that wasn’t always the case. The U.S. sold Iran its first nuclear research reactor in 1967, a friendship that fell apart 12 years later after the shah was overthrown and Iranian revolutionaries held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.
Last year, when President Barack Obama reached out to Rouhani to work together on a deal, the two leaders’ brief telephone conversation was the first high-level contact between the two countries in 34 years.
Although Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, the U.S. and the rest of the international community want to make sure Tehran isn’t able to create a nuclear weapon within a year of beginning to pursue one. Although Israel is not part of the official talks, its leaders have been pushing for a halt to Iran’s nuclear program, not just a downgrade.
Heinonen said an extension is expected because it’s too late in the game to step away from a possible deal.
On Monday, according to The Associated Press, a well-placed Western diplomat said that elements were falling into place for an agreement to allow the talks to continue for more than seven months. The diplomat told the AP that a broad agreement should be completed by March 1 of next year, with the final details to worked out by July 1.
Kiyaei said agreement on three main points is necessary to secure a deal: verifying that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, monitoring it properly and putting in place transparency measures to ensure Iranian honesty.