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US: Significant Gaps Face Resumption of Iran Nuclear Talks

L-R: Dr. Frederick W. Kagan, Christopher DeMuth Chair and Director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, Scott Modell, testify before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, June 12, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Negotiations on limiting Iran's nuclear program are to resume Tuesday in Vienna. There are some obstacles blocking progress with just more than one month to go before the deadline for an agreement.

A senior State Department official says "significant gaps" remain between Iran and its U.S. and European counterparts in these talks, but there is broad agreement that limits on Iran's nuclear program can be agreed to before the talks' July deadline.

But even with a deal, fundamental changes in relations between the United States and Iran face what the State Department official calls Washington's "great concerns" about Tehran's human rights abuses and acts of terrorism.

Some of the Obama administration's political opponents say these talks have already strengthened Iran.

"Even if we make it through this successfully, which I hope with every cell of my body we do, they're still going to be a major state-sponsor of terror, they are still going to supporting a brutal dictator in Syria, and there are going to still be tremendous human rights violators," said Republican Senator Bob Corker.

American Enterprise Institute analyst Frederick Kagan says Iran's nuclear program, and its participation in these talks, are a means to broader ends.

"Iran's strategy in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and Bahrain and Yemen and throughout the region has shown the enormous damage the Islamic Republic does by the methods that it uses to pursue its aims," he said. "Iran does not fill vacuums. Iran creates vacuums."

American University professor Hillary Mann Leverett says remaining differences include the scale of nuclear enrichment Iran will maintain under the deal, as well as the mechanism for lifting international sanctions.

"The Iranians, of course, want the United States to lift all sanctions as soon as a deal is concluded," she said. "And the U.S. side is looking at ways to keep sanctions in some way, to keep some of them, and the ones that we do in a sense lift not really lift, actually suspend and attach triggers for immediate reimposition with Iranian noncompliance."

Center for Strategic and International Studies associate Scott Modell says easing sanctions enables Iran's regional ambitions.

"As it frees-up money for the Iranian government, it is only going to embolden Iran's threat network even further," he said.

Iran and the United States are both concerned about Syrian-based Sunni militants threatening the government in Iraq. Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Bill Burns is in these nuclear talks. A senior State Department official says Burns may have discussions with Iranian officials about Iraq, but they would be "completely and separately" removed from nuclear negotiations.