Another round of talks is scheduled for next Monday, at which point the negotiating powers will have entered the final month before a self-imposed deadline for a framework agreement by the end of March. A final agreement, complete with technical details for the general points current being discusses, is expected by the end of June. Two previous deadlines for a final agreement have already been missed, one last July and one in November. Due to the length of the discussions to date, changing political circumstances including Republican control of the US Congress, and political pressures on both sides, a third deadline extension is not expected to be sought.
Indeed, according to YNetNews, Secretary of State Kerry warned during the latest round of talks that the US is prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if Iran refuses to moderate its positions and continues to insist upon what would be a bad deal for Western interests. But the same report also indicates that Iran’s most vocal critics believe that Kerry has already betrayed this promise simply by keeping the US at the negotiating table up to the current stage.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he considered it “astonishing” that negotiations were still ongoing in light of Iranian intransigence and the danger that the Islamic Republic will be left as a threshold nuclear state, thereby putting Israel at greater risk from a regional power that has repeatedly advocated for the destruction of the Jewish state. He added that any deal at this point would be “dangerous for Israel, the region, and the entire world.”
Furthermore, many journalists and commentators following this issue believe that recent proposals and reports from within the negotiations indicate that the Obama administration is already prepared to give up enough of its own positions to effectively hand Tehran the capability for developing a nuclear weapon within several years of the conclusion of negotiations, if not earlier.
This is the view expressed on Monday by Western Journalism, which described the current prospective deal as giving “a phased-in capability to Iran for developing a nuclear weapon.” Meanwhile, the Associated Press describes the actual details that lead to this interpretation, as well as the conflict among negotiators that set the stage for the proposal.
The AP notes that one of the long-standing points of contention between the US and Iran involves the length of whatever agreement may ultimately be signed. The original US position called for restrictions to be maintained on Iran’s nuclear program for approximately 20 years, while Iran has insisted on significantly less than half of that. The AP characterizes the proposal to emerge from the latest talks as being “somewhere in the middle,” but the details appear somewhat closer to the Iranian position.
Under one prospective deal, Iran’s nuclear enrichment would be constrained by ten years, but those restrictions would begin to be gradually lifted after only five years if Iran was considered to be in compliance with the agreement.
Even this proposal would depend upon Iran agreeing to it instead of pushing for additional concessions. On various points thus far, Tehran has refused to compromise, and it is not clear that Kerry’s purported threat to walk away will change that. According to Western Journalism, Iranian media has lately described the US as being desperate for a deal, suggesting that Tehran may not take such a threat seriously.
Also supporting that interpretation, Iran has maintained a defiant tone in other aspects of its media coverage of the talks, and in its broader conduct. The Associated Press points out that development is continuing at the Fordo and Arak sites, which may allow Tehran to pursue secretive, below-ground uranium enrichment and a plutonium pathway to a nuclear weapon, respectively.
What’s more, Iran is publicly celebrating such developments, presenting them as progress in spite of US-led sanctions and as part of a nascent victory over Iran’s “enemies” in the West. The Times of Israel reported on Monday that an event had taken place in Gonabad, Iran in which a massive domino show was set up along a nuclear theme, knocking down representations of various perceived obstacles to Iran’s nuclear progress.
Seriously undermining the notion that the Iranian nuclear program is only aimed at civilian ends, the show concluded with a domino-made Israeli flag collapsing as a mock missile fell in front of it and pyrotechnics were set off, accompanied by cheers from the crowd.