Diplomats Optimistic, but Nuclear Agreement Still Uncertain

The Washington Tribune noted that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had described the talks as being in their “final stage” on Sunday, while a number of other diplomats expressed similar optimism that the details of an agreement would be revealed imminently unless new problems arose.

Diplomats have largely maintained an optimistic tone throughout the process, but prior to the weekend the Obama administration’s assessment of the talks seemed to reach a low point when the US president reportedly said that the prospects for an agreement had dipped below a 50-50 chance of success. It is unclear what, if anything changed over the weekend to reverse this downward trend.

Critics of the Obama administration have frequently expressed concern that the US might give major concessions to Iran in order to salvage the deal at a time when newly enhanced Iranian demands have been blamed for many of the last-minute delays. These demands include the removal of US and UN embargos on ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. US officials repeatedly insisted that these would remain in place. But if the talks are indeed reaching their end, it is almost certain that one side or the other has given up on this disagreement.

A report by the Indo-Asian News Service may give reason for observers to believe that the Iranian position still has the upper hand. It points out that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – believed by some to have a more moderate perspective on the talks than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – gave a speech on Sunday in which he expressed his belief that Iranian negotiators would “emerge victorious from this difficult and complicated battle.”

IANS also points out that Rouhani urged the passage of a law that codifies some of Khamenei’s red lines in the nuclear talks, including the denial of access to military sites for international inspectors. The law would also declare that Iran has a legal right to nuclear enrichment and that the final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 should include the “complete” removal of economic sanctions immediately after going into effect.

This levelling of the nuclear talking points of Rouhani and Khamenei raises questions about how feasible it was to sway Iran from its reportedly excessive demands in the most recent rounds of talks. Conversely, while the Obama administration has received much criticism from the US Congress, it has also received expressions of support, as well as offers of leeway from political allies who are nonetheless skeptical of the strength of the emerging deal.

On one hand, Breaking Israel News points out that a petition signed by Christians from around the world urged Western nations to maintain a hardline in negotiations and see to it that Iran’s nuclear capabilities are completely dismantled before it is given any further economic rewards. But on the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports that a group of Americans including members of the National Iranian-American Council visited Vienna to express support for Iran’s positions in the talks, including its demand for an end to arms embargos.

Although representing an arguably narrower spectrum, responses have also varied among members of the US Congress. The Associated Press reported on Monday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that the emerging agreement would be a hard sell for the legislature and the American people. Senator Robert Menendez essentially echoed this sentiment and added that he was worried about the effect that sanctions relief would have on Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon and other destabilizing activities.

But Senator Bob Corker, the author of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, was described by the Washington Tribune as giving a “slightly more equivocal” assessment. He worried that Iran might be able to cheat on some aspects of the agreement, but he left open the possibility that it might be approved after congressional review. Under the terms of the Review Act, even if an agreement is announced late Monday, it has already exceeded the threshold whereby Congress will have 60 days to review it, instead of just 30.

But regardless of diplomats’ optimism and legislators’ readiness for review, it is still not a foregone conclusion that an agreement will be announced. Reuters reported on Monday that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was prepared to continue the talks beyond this latest deadline, and that this would possibly be necessary. US Secretary of State John Kerry said much the same thing, acknowledging that there were still outstanding issues to be resolved.

The India Times reports that these outstanding issues are supposedly limited to “technical issues.” But this language has been used to describe the obstacles to a final agreement throughout the past several weeks. Consequently, it is possible that some of the technical issues that the six parties were rushing to complete on Monday were still some of the central points of disagreement.

What’s more, the India Times points out that even if the current proposals are presented to the public as a final draft, work still remains to be done on completing translations from English to other languages. The preparation and processing of a Farsi document could take until Wednesday, and based on past experiences in the negotiations this could be a source of further difficulty. The final agreement will ostensibly be based on framework that was announced on April 2. However, in the days following that supposed accord, Iranian negotiators and officials disputed key points of the US fact sheet regarding what had been agreed upon and placed into the draft agreement.