Just a day after media reports warned that no progress was being made in negotiations between the P5+1 alliance of Western nations and Iran regarding that nation’s illegal nuclear weapons program, US Secretary of State John Kerry cited significant progress in a bid to set the state for an expected announcement of yet another reprieve for Iran’s nuclear program.
“I have said and repeat,” Kerry told reporters in Vienna, “there has been tangible progress on key issues.” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif backed Kerry up, telling reporters that enough progress has been made to justify an extension of the deal.
While it appears that the US and Iran have joined these talks with diametrically opposed positions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, they both share a keen interest in keeping the talks going – with or without progress.
Iran would benefit from any extension of the agreement in that it would give it more time to continue the development of its ballistic missile program, as well as unaffected elements of “nuclear research,” while free from the crippling sanctions the West had imposed against the Islamic Republic for its numerous violations of international obligations regarding its nuclear program. President Obama would be able to claim that his much maligned “process” is “working,” thus forestalling, at least for a time, yet another monumental global catastrophe from accumulating on his watch.
On Tuesday diplomats began leaking word that the controversial interim deal reached last November would be extended by at least a few months. The so called “Interim Agreement” expires on July 20, at which point Iran would be released from any direct obligation to adhere to cessation of nuclear advances including the addition of new uranium enriching centrifuges to its admitted stockpile of 19,000. It would also, if the P5+1 group had the interest and/or will to do so, reimpose the once harsh sanction regime that was significantly relaxed as part of the interim deal.
While the terms of an extension, if an extension has been agreed, are not yet known, diplomats, journalists, and NGO types familiar with both the talks and the players involved seem to agree that all that remained was for the terms of such an extension to be released. Those terms would include whether or not current negotiations would continue at their present pace and whether or not the extension would simply stretch out the timeline of the current agreement or change any of the current terms as well.
While President Obama asserts he is resolved to prevent the development of an Iranian nuclear capability, the near certainty of another extension despite any significant progress in the talks belies what many fear to be the President’s ulterior motive – keeping the talks going indefinitely for the sake of proving to critics that the “process is working.” Meanwhile, not a single Iranian centrifuge has been dismantled, nor has a single ounce of highly enriched uranium been shipped out of the country.
In Washington, bipartisan skepticism about the merits of extending a deal many already opposed appears on the rise. Some lawmakers called not only for the current deal not to be extended and prior sanctions reimposed, but that new, still tougher sanctions be slapped on the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Tehran that remains the world’s pre-eminent sponsor of global terrorism
“What would it take.” asks NRO’s Jim Geraghty in a subscriber email, “for President Obama and John Kerry to conclude, ‘These guys aren’t serious about a deal, they’re stalling for time, and we’re playing into their hands by continuing these negotiations?'”