The nuclear talks with Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland, dissolved into a confusing mess as the Tuesday deadline passed, with everyone simultaneously saying they agree on everything important while still unable to come to an agreement.
Iran keeps making last-minute demands, with the Obama administration’s cooperation, but the rest of the P5+1 nations seem like they might be getting tired of sitting at the table.
The Times of Israel reports that Secretary of State John Kerry will remain parked in Switzerland for a few more days, as State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf asserted, “We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding.”
The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, emerged from a solo meeting with Kerry to proclaim, “Iran has shown its readiness to engage with dignity and it’s time for our negotiating partners to seize the moment and use this opportunity which may not be repeated.”
He then lowered expectations and said nothing would come from the current round of talks but a “statement.”
Even that was too much for an unnamed “Western official,” presumably not American, who “pushed back on that, saying that nothing about a statement had been decided and that Iran’s negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details,” according to the Times of Israel.
The Iranians have demanded immediate sanctions relief in exchange for precious little on their end, although the deputy foreign minister hinted that they might be willing to compromise on instant total sanctions relief. It might not happen overnight, but he was still firm that sanctions had to end as “the first step of the deal.”
“Our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect, or whether they want to continue based on pressure,” said foreign minister Zarif. “They have tested the other one. It is high time to test this one.”
Even the extremely accommodating Obama administration might be running out of patience with Iran. “We’re going to drive a hard bargain and we’re going to expect Iran to make serious commitments,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday, as reported by Fox News. “And we’re going to give them the opportunity to do so. But if they don’t, the international community, alongside the United States, is prepared to walk away and consider some alternatives.”
That has clearly been the position of congressional Republicans for some time, but somewhat surprisingly, former Democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean seems to agree, advising a step back from the bargaining table to let Iran know Western demands are serious. If nothing else, the administration and its allies seem to have realized Iran will not agree to anything firm enough to overcome bipartisan congressional resistance, and these days they seem a lot less confident about the strategy of bypassing Congress to get a deal ratified by the U.N. and present it to America as a done deal.
Maybe the administration has been hearing some discouraging words about the U.N.’s willingness to buy what Iran is selling. At this point, it sounds like the administration is just refusing to admit the negotiations are ending, even as most of the other negotiators are heading for the doors.