According to Breitbart, both the Russian and the Iranian Foreign Minister gave the impression that an unwritten framework had been agreed upon and that this would be written down sometime on Wednesday. However, a senior Iranian negotiator had by then also been quoted as saying that their side of the talks recognizes no “artificial deadlines” and would continue negotiations through Wednesday or beyond, if need be.
The fact that the most positive statements are coming from Iran and its ally Russia is enough to suggest that the news of an informal framework is suspect. And indeed, Agence France-Presse reports that United States officials have specifically denied that an agreement had been reached.
NBC News indicates that US President Barack Obama had been briefed on the talks after the deadline lapsed, at which point it was understood that those talks would continue on Wednesday, with an eye toward convincing Iran to agree to greater limits on its research and development.
CNN adds that more specific R&D disagreements concern the last five years of what would be a 15 year deal. Additionally, Western negotiators indicated that there had still been no meaningful agreement about how quickly the economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted, or about whether they would be entirely removed or simply suspended and left poised to snap back into place if Iran is found to cheat on the final deal, which is still due to be signed on June 30.
In what may be a further sign of trouble, AFP reports that both the French and Chinese foreign minister had left the talks early Wednesday morning, with the France’s Laurent Fabius implying a measure of frustration as his office announced that he would return “as soon as it is useful.”
But although this plainly suggests that the overtime negotiations have not been as effective or final as Russia and Iran have claimed, it also clearly indicates that none of the negotiators – not even the French negotiators who have developed a relationship for maintaining the hardest line on Iran – are willing to permanently walk away from the table, even after the lapsed deadline.
CNN pointed out on Tuesday that apparently not much would happen if the deadline was missed, and the news as of Wednesday morning seems to bear this out. The Wall Street Journal similarly pointed out that there were no defined automatic consequences for the failure to secure a framework agreement by March 31. So although the date had been widely reported in the media as a sort of make-or-break deadline (with many earlier reports indicating that the deadline had actually been March 24), the seven negotiating partners are by all accounts free to ignore the supposed deadline on the understanding that 2013’s interim Joint Plan of Action remains in force until the end of June.
Interestingly, Bloomberg points out that the global oil market seems to also be operating on the assumption that nuclear negotiators will not let the lapsed deadline halt a deal. That is, oil prices fell by nearly three percent even as the talks moved beyond their deadline, in anticipation of a flood of Iranian oil into an already saturated market once the deal is concluded.
As of Wednesday morning, there had been neither a formal extension of the framework deadline nor the multi-party announcement of a successful agreement, so it remains possible that either of these outcomes could emerge, even if it is delayed. But what is clear is that Iran will not have to suffer the negative consequences of failed negotiations, at least not until after June 30.
However, in the meantime Iran does remain subject to certain economic pressures. By some accounts, the US is still trying to keep that pressure on, even as the Obama administration is accused of making concessions to the Islamic Republic and giving away US leverage. First Post reported on Tuesday that India had altogether halted its importation of Iranian oil during the month of March, apparently in response to US urging that Asian countries help to keep Iran’s exports below the limits set around the same time as the signing of the Joint Plan of Action.
But even though the US has apparently received some cooperation in this endeavor, critics of the nuclear talks are notably skeptical about whether existing measures have been sufficient to urge Iranian cooperation, and Tuesday’s lapsed deadline certainly supports that skepticism.
The Wall Street Journal points out that Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who had previously become infamous for authoring a letter signed by 46 of his colleagues asserting that they could cancel a deal between President Obama and Tehran, commented on the lack of progress before the deadline by saying that it was proof that Iran is calling the shots in these negotiations.
The Journal adds that Iran appears to have been “doubling down on its intransigence” in the immediate run-up to the framework deadline, whereas the US had apparently disregarded the strategic option of issuing an ultimatum to compel Tehran to either accept a reasonable deal of walk away once and for all.