Negotiations toward a nuclear deal between Iran and the P+5 nations (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) will continue through June, according to reports from Lausanne, Switzerland on Tuesday. The announcement was made to satisfy the self-imposed deadline of March 31 for a provisional agreement, with “technical” details to be agreed by July 1. However, major differences appear to have been redefined as “technical” to keep talks going.
The chief sticking point remains the question of what will happen to Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium. Iran had initially agreed to export the stockpile abroad, but reversed its position at the 11th hour. In addition, Iran wants UN sanctions lifted immediately, rather than at the end of several years. The parties have not yet agreed on a system of monitoring compliance, and the U.S. appears to have given up a demand for Iran to reveal possible military dimensions (PMDs) of its program.
The announcement of a new sort of interim agreement will suit the Obama administration’s political purposes, providing a ceremonious display of diplomatic progress for domestic consumption. The real winner, however, is Iran, which will have reason to feel proud of the concessions its negotiators have won, including an apparent agreement to allow it to maintain centrifuges at the fortified underground site at Fordow. Iran will also have three more months to build its nuclear capacity.
The lack of a more specific agreement, however, may provide American critics of the negotiations with an opportunity to press for new legislation in Congress–both for new sanctions in the event of failed talks, and for requiring any final deal to be ratified by the Senate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the terms of the emerging deal as “even worse” than he had expected, and Tuesday’s deal may make the question of military force far more urgent than before.