New Deadline in Jeopardy as Work Remains in Vienna
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that it was “certainly possible” that negotiators in Vienna could miss the July 7 deadline to strike a final nuclear agreement. While reports on Sunday indicated that diplomats had completed 70% of the technical annex of the agreement and 90% of the other four annexes, the agreement needed more work. Mohammad Javad Zarif also confirmed before negotiations continued Monday that “nothing is clear” and negotiators still needed to resolve some difficult issues before reaching an agreement.
Iran maintains that July 7 is not its own deadline and would be open to negotiating past July 9 as well. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Sunday that Iran needed to quickly make tough choices “over the next couple days” if it ever wanted to reach a final deal. He added that if Iran was ready to make “clear commitments” on the issues remaining, “we could get an agreement this week,” otherwise the U.S. would walk away from negotiations.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also put the onus on Iran to make clear commitments on unresolved issues. But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that while a “comprehensive agreement is within reach,” a successful deal hinged on both the U.S. and Iran coming together to “make the final decisions as quickly as possible.”
While negotiators set July 7 as the new deadline for reaching an agreement, July 9 is the last day the Obama administration can submit an agreement to Congress without giving Members more than 30 days to review its terms
Iran Insists on P5+1 Lifting Arms Embargo, Missile Sanctions
One major roadblock remaining is Iran’s insistence that the P5+1 lift both the U.N. arms embargo and sanctions on its ballistic missile program. Iran diplomats believe these restrictions do not relate to its nuclear program and claim they should be removed along with all other sanctions. But a Western official told Reuters that “there’s no appetite for that on our part” and that lifting both restrictions is “out of the question.”
This is the first time negotiators have raised the issue in public, and senior Iranian negotiators maintain that lifting these restrictions is essential to reaching a final agreement. Two P5+1 countries—Russia and China—actually support lifting the arms embargo. Russia, in particular, would likely profit from selling Iran its advanced air defense systems. But the U.S. believes that lifting these restrictions could destabilize the Middle East and even help Iran assist Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Negotiators Agree On Timing of Sanctions Relief
However, negotiators were successful in resolving another major obstacle to a final agreement: the timing of sanctions relief for Iran. One diplomat speaking anonymously said that while work remained in other sections, negotiators finished drafting a document over the weekend outlining the pace and timing in which the West would remove sanctions. A senior U.S. official confirmed the report but added that a few details remained.
Iran has repeatedly cited the timing of sanctions relief as the most important issue in negotiations, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanding
two weeks ago that no deal would be reached unless the P5+1 lifted all sanctions “immediately when the deal is signed.”