The bilateral meetings have been arranged to try to make up for a lack of progress in the last round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. The next round is set to begin next week, just over a month ahead of the July 20 deadline for a final agreement. Very many observers have concluded that that deadline is now impracticable. Reuters on Tuesday quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying that the discussions are “hitting a wall,” casting further doubt on the deadline. France will begin its own bilateral talks with Iran on Wednesday, as will Russia. Both nations are among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. 

Possible Extensions 

The July 20 deadline is flexible and can be extended by six months. On Monday, Reuters reported that Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi had specifically invoked the six month extension option. However, much like US officials, he stated that his nation’s preference was for signing a deal before July 20. However, Iran has failed to fully comply with the terms of the interim deal and is currently insisting upon expansion, not reduction, of its nuclear enrichment capability.

Several commentators have claimed that if a deal is not reached on July 20, the possibility of achieving one afterwards is extremely remote. Jennifer Rubin said as much in her Washington Post column on Monday. In it, she also listed a number of topics which she feels should be subject to Congressional oversight before President Obama continues to pursue a diplomatic agreement with Iran. These include an account of how much Iran’s economy has recovered in light of limited sanctions relief, what Obama plans to do to confront Iran about its sponsorship of terrorism, and what impact considerable anti-Western rhetoric by Iranian officials may have on talks. 

In an in-depth editorial in Foreign Affairs, Colin H. Kahl also brings attention to the issue of Iranian rhetoric, belligerence, and support for international terrorism. The article responds to a previous editorial that had argued that if Iran did obtain a nuclear weapon, it would never use it, but would actually act more rationally because of its possession of a deterrent to armed conflict. Kahl turns this argument on its head by saying that if Iran possessed such a deterrent, it would almost certainly be emboldened to act more aggressively and would be able to provide more complex weapons and equipment to the terrorist groups it supports. Kahl says that obtaining a nuclear bomb would also be an ideological victory for Iran, encouraging it to continue pursuing its own ascendance to power in place of the West.