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Iran Talks Enter Crucial Phase

  • Al Pessin

Iranian and international negotiators are heading into their final 10 days of negotiations on the future of Iran’s nuclear program and international economic sanctions. The talks in Vienna face a July 20 deadline, but last year’s temporary agreement could be extended.

Iran’s foreign minister took his familiar place beside the EU foreign policy chief as talks started on July 3rd. But no one was making any promises.

“It will take the time that it takes. That is all I can say," said EU spokesman Michael Mann.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the international delegation has offered “reasonable, verifiable and easily achievable measures” to guarantee Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, as Iran says it is.

But his spokeswoman Jen Psaki says “significant gaps remain.”

“We are in the middle of it right now, so I do not have much more to speculate on," she said.

Meanwhile, Iran continued its public relations offensive with another video from Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, but this time with a defiant element.

“As we approach July 20th, I feel compelled to warn again that pursuing a game of chicken in an attempt to extract last minute concessions cannot achieve anything better than what it achieved in 2005," he said.

Iran says it has no interest in building a nuclear weapon, but the international community wants proof.

Iran has concealed military aspects of its program for years, and defied resolutions from the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Part of the difficulty in determining how Iran will prove what it says, is that the nuclear program has become a matter of national pride, says Matthew Moran of King’s College.

“In Iran, the nuclear program has been invested with enormous importance," he said. "It has been made an issue of sovereign rights, and it is been sort of infused with a powerful nationalism, which makes it quite difficult for Iran to roll back."

But there are other pressures, too. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected on a platform of ending global economic sanctions linked to the nuclear dispute and improving Iran’s economy. If the talks fail, or drag on much beyond July 20, that could become more difficult, according to London-based analyst Paul Ingram.

“I think it is a dangerous game for Iran to be playing for time for two key reasons," he said. "One is because sanctions are biting. And secondly, I think the Iranians know only too well that the politics in the United States are moving away from Obama and away from a more reconciliatory position vis-a-vis Iran."

Foreign Minister Zarif indicated Iran hopes its help with the Iraq crisis will improve its position in the nuclear talks.

But U.N. negotiators say the issues are not related, and analysts warn missing the deadline will not make the nuclear dispute any easier to resolve.