Iranian and international negotiators convene in Vienna Tuesday for a final push to try to reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear program by the November 24 deadline.
The issues are largely the same as they have been for more than a year, and the implications of not reaching a deal are potentially as dire as ever
Scenes like these from past rounds of talks will play out again in front of the television cameras. Then, the negotiators will close the doors to debate how many centrifuges Iran will retain capable of enriching uranium that can be used to build a nuclear weapon, what sort of inspections will be allowed, and how quickly economic sanctions will be lifted.
Jane Kinninmont, deputy head of the Middle East Program at London’s Chatham House, says "there is a great deal of seriousness on both sides to come up with some sort of deal.”
She says although seven nations are involved, it mainly comes down to the United States and Iran.
“There is an interest on the part of both presidents in making a deal, and the feeling that if this opportunity is missed, they won’t see a similar opportunity in their lifetime,” she said.
Still, China and Russia are also at the negotiating table. They have presented a solid front with U.S. and European negotiators, but Russia, in particular, has a somewhat different view of Iran than the others. And its policy is a concern for the West, especially in light of its new, more aggressive policy in Europe.
“Russia wants to have its alliance with Iran, but it doesn’t have a particular interest in seeing Iran really become a nuclear weapons power or become a much more independent actor,” said Kinninmont.
She says the deal Russia just signed with Iran to reprocess its used nuclear fuel could help pave the way for an agreement. But Anoush Ehteshami, director of the international program at Durham University says it also raises concerns.
“Is Russia unilaterally deriving deals that could provide Iran with ‘get out’ clauses outside of the negotiations that are happening with the P5+1? asked Ehteshami. "And for that, I don’t have an answer yet because this is still far too fresh.”
More important for the coming round of negotiations is whether the sides can bridge the remaining gaps and then convince skeptics in their own governments to accept their compromises. Professor Ehteshami says in spite of the sometimes harsh rhetoric coming out of Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani will be able to do that.
“The negotiating team has a mandate from the people. They have given President Rouhani the mandate to see through this difficult phase," said Ehteshami. "And his mandate was, his platform was, to end Iran’s isolation and to open it up to the world. The only way Iran can do that is to bring closure to the nuclear crisis.”
The consequences of not doing that would be grave for Iran’s economy, hit by sanctions and low oil prices, and could potentially lead to military strikes on its nuclear facilities. That all adds to the urgency of reaching an agreement, but does not make it any easier.