Vienna Talks Fail to Reach Agreement on Iran Nuclear Program

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, prior to a bilateral meeting of the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, Austria, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. The U.S. and five other nations trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran are turning away from attempting to reach an agreement by deadline and have started internal discussions on extending the talks, diplomats said Sunday. (Photo: Reuters/Pool)

Vienna Talks Fail to Reach Agreement on Iran Nuclear Program

Monday's self-imposed deadline fails to force deal on sanctions relief and nuclear monitoring, but diplomats reportedly ready to try again in December

Update (11:48 AM EST): Talks extended for for seven additional months

As indicated in earlier reporting (see below), Iran and the P5+1 nations failed to finalized a nuclear and sanctions relief agreement after six days of talks in Vienna but have agreed to extend the dialogue and negotiation process until July of 2015.

According to foreign policy analyst Jasmin Ramsey:

The terms of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which was reached last year in Geneva, will remain in force until that date.

A second deadline for a political framework deal has been set by Iran and the P5+1 (US, Russia, China, UK, France plus Germany) for March 1, 2015.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hammond told reporters in the Austrian capital today that meetings would resume next month.

"We can't afford to stop now," said Hammond, according to the Guardian newspaper.

"There will be further meetings in December and our clear target is to reach a headline agreement, an agreement on substance in the next three months or so," he added.

Reporting for Buzzfeed, journalist Rosie Gray adds:

Extending the talks, though it gives the two sides more time to reach an agreement, will bring its own problems; opponents of the deal on both sides are losing patience with the negotiations and are fearful that the dragged-out process will produce an unsatisfactory deal.

In the U.S., Republicans in Congress have made it clear they will try to kill a deal they view as unsatisfactory -- and they'll be empowered to do so when the new Republican-majority Senate comes to town in January. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who will become the Senate Majority Leader in January, has said he will hold a vote on an Iran sanctions bill that was prevented from coming to a vote by Democratic leadership earlier this year.


As Monday's deadline arrived, it appears that high-level talks in Vienna will not result with a signed nuclear and sanctions-relief agreement between Iran and other nations.

However, news agencies are reporting that the final business between Iran negotiators and those from the P5+1 nations--which include the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China--will be to schedule another meeting next month in hopes of finalizing a deal before the end of the year.

According to Reuters:

Details about the resumption of negotiations were still being worked out, though one source said on condition of anonymity that Iran could not expect any new sanctions relief for the time being. Possible venues could include Vienna and Oman, one of the sources said, though nothing had been decided.

"Given progress made this weekend, talks headed to likely extension with experts and negotiating teams reconvening in December at a yet-to-be-determined location," a Western diplomat said in an email. The diplomat declined to be identified.

The deadline for a deal, agreed in July when the two sides missed an earlier target date, was Monday.

"Some progress has been made," said another diplomat involved in the talks. "But we need to discuss some issues with our capitals. We will meet again before the new year. This is an ongoing process."

All sides have acknowledged that enormous progress has been made, but finalizing the deal means confronting some of the worrisome domestic politics that each nation--though especially the United States--brings to the table. With long-held worries that members of Congress would fulfill threats to torpedo the deal, the White House--facing the prospect of Republican majorities in both the House and Senate come January--is running out of room to finalize the deal.

As Paul Pillar, an ex-CIA analyst and commentator on foreign policy, wrote over the weekend, the failure to reach and finalize an agreement could have grave consequences:

If the deal-wreckers succeed, we will have a negative turning point in U.S. foreign relations because the opportunity for any kind of nuclear deal with Iran will be lost for an indefinite future. The conditions that made it possible for the two sides to get as close to agreement as they now would quickly unravel in multiple ways.

The Iranian president would in effect become a lame duck, the influence of hardliners in Iran would rise, and credibility that had been built up during the negotiations would dissipate. The alternative to whatever deal emerges from the current negotiations would be no deal at all.

Having an agreement emerge during a lame-duck Congress was supposed to be the most sabotage-resistant timing, and it probably is. But expectations now are that what will most likely be announced this month is not a complete agreement but rather some version of an extension of the previous interim deal and a partial agreement with additional details yet to be negotiated.

This situation unfortunately will be an invitation to those wielding the wrecking ball to do serious damage after the new Congress convenes. They probably will take multiple whacks with the ball. There is, for example, a bill sponsored by the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, that is designed to get a hasty vote of disapproval of the agreement before anyone would have much chance to study it.

There also would be a push (most fervently from Sen. Mark Kirk) to impose more sanctions, which would violate the interim agreements and provide cause for the Iranians to walk away from the table. The fact that keeping the terms of the current interim agreement in effect would achieve the presumed goal of freezing or rolling back the Iranian nuclear program would do little to slow down the deal-wreckers.

Blowing the opportunity for an agreement would be all the more a shame because, according to the preeminent criterion of preventing any Iranian nuclear weapon (not to mention other consequences of an agreement), the choice between a deal and no deal is almost a no-brainer.

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