With a self-imposed Tuesday deadline looming for talks between Iran and the P5+1 nations—the U.S., U.K., China, France, Russia, and Germany—reports on the progress of the negotiations on Monday indicated that a framework agreement remains possible, but not a certainty.
"We are working late into the night and obviously into tomorrow," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in the Swiss town of Lausanne. "There is a little more light there today, but there are still some tricky issues. Everyone knows the meaning of tomorrow."
According to the Guardian's foreign correspondent Julian Borger:
A US state department spokeswoman said on Monday night that prospects of a deal on Tuesday were ‘50-50’. Working teams of experts and diplomats were instructed to work through the night on the outstanding issues in the search for a breakthrough.
Diplomats said that the principle sticking point was the issue of UN security council sanctions on Iran. Zarif’s team is sticking by the demand by their country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, for all sanctions to be lifted at once in return for Iranian acceptance of restrictions on its nuclear programme over a period of at least ten years.
Reuters, however, reports that negotiators from all parties appeared increasingly pessimistic. "If we don't have some type of framework agreement now, it will be difficult to explain why we would be able to have one by June 30," one Western diplomat told the news agency.
The Associated Press reports:
In a sign that the talks would go down to the wire on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left, just a day after arriving, to return to Moscow. His spokeswoman said he would will return to Lausanne on Tuesday only if there was a realistic chance for a deal.
Meanwhile, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state television that the talks were not likely to reach any conclusion until "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."
"We are not still in the position to be able to say we are close to resolving the (remaining) issues but we are hopeful and we'll continue the efforts," he said.
Appearing on Democracy Now! on Monday, Trita Parsi, president of the National American Iranian Council, said the paradox of the ongoing negotiations in Switzerland continues to be the interplay between political brinksmanship on all sides coming up against what he believes is a true desire to reach a deal.
In general terms, Parsi argued, the Iranians have been "accepting the demands the U.S. has asked of them. What they have not accepted is what the U.S. is offering in turn." However, he said, the Iranians—including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—actually do want an agreement to succeed. He explained:
I think what has been widely misunderstood in the U.S. in particular is that there’s been this belief that the supreme leader is an ideological opponent to a deal with the U.S. He is a skeptic without a doubt, but, part of the reason that I think he’s looking favorably towards a deal that he can live with right now is that it will be the first time in 200 years that the Iranians have had a major dispute with the West or the great powers and that it ended up with a negotiation in which the Iranians did not lose; it doesn’t mean that the U.S. lost. What he meant that Iran has managed to get the other great powers to the negotiating table and the end result is a mutual compromise rather than Iranian capitulation. That is, frankly, a first for any country in the Middle East.
And finally, independent journalist and historian Gareth Porter, in a recent analysis, explained why the scope of the sanctions relief plan could ultimately be the key aspect that makes or breaks the deal. According to Porter:
What Iran fears in accepting such a deal is that with the sanctions regime still in place, potential foreign investors would continue to stay away from Iran because of the fear of US extraterritorial sanctions against them. As a senior Iranian official told the International Crisis Group’s Ali Vaez last December, “[A]s long as the sanction architecture is intact, so is the chilling effect [on foreign investors].“ In other words, Iran will never be free of the pressure from the United States exerted through pressure on foreign businesses and banks until the sanctions laws themselves are terminated. [...]
Even worse, the Obama administration and its allies have been saying that sanctions relief would be held up until Iran satisfies the IAEA in regard to those highly questionable alleged Iranian documents and until the agency is satisfied that there are no undeclared sites or nuclear material in Iran. The IAEA has indicated to the International Crisis group that the latter could take up to 10 years. In other words, lifting sanctions could be denied on the basis of a politicized investigation that is clearly already stacked against Iran.
Iran is well aware that accepting the superficially tempting offer of upfront access to cash does nothing to solve its sanctions problem. Although they are not rejecting the idea of suspension of certain sanctions under certain circumstances, the Iranians insist that any irreversible concessions by Iran must be “reciprocated with termination of sanctions”.
So a political framework is possible in the coming days, perhaps in the form of principles that have been agreed to on both enrichment capabilities and on sanctions relief. But the Obama administration won’t get the signed agreement that it is seeking with the quantitative limits to which Iran has agreed if a detailed agreement on lifting sanctions has not reached as well. And that won’t happen unless the P5+1 makes an extraordinary climb-down from its starting position on the issue.