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Iran talks kick into overdrive

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said the negotiators need a couple more days to try to conclude a final Iran nuclear accord.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini talks to journalists outside Palais Coburg, the venue for nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, July 7, 2015. Iran and major powers will continue negotiations on an historic nuclear deal past a deadline for a long-term agreement, which is set to expire later on Tuesday, Mogherini said. "We are continuing to negotiate for the next couple of days. This does not mean we are extending our deadline," Mogherini told reporters. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger - RTX1JDO3

VIENNA — Negotiators “stopped the clock” at the Iran talks Tuesday as they ran up against a self-imposed July 7 deadline, saying they would continue the talks for the next hours or couple of days as they struggle to overcome differences on some tough and sensitive remaining issues to conclude a final Iran nuclear deal. But there were also signs of continued internal divisions within the six world powers on the issue of what should happen with a UN Security Council arms embargo on Iran, with Russia insisting that arms exports to Iran should be allowed.

“It is of crucial importance … how we can agree on the issue as soon as possible on the issue of arms embargo,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian journalists as he departed the talks in Vienna that were held over the past day between foreign ministers from Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1).

The foreign ministers from France, the United Kingdom, Germany and China also planned to leave, but said they will return in the next days if needed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif plan to continue negotiating here, the State Department said, announcing that the United States is extending the interim deal measures until July 10.

“We're frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won't get any easier with time,” State Department senior adviser Marie Harf told journalists in a statement July 7.

“We've made substantial progress in every area, but this work is highly technical and high stakes for all of the countries involved,” Harf continued. “To allow for the additional time to negotiate, we are taking the necessary technical steps for the measures of the Joint Plan of Action to remain in place through July 10.”

The announcement that the United States was extending the measures was a clear signal that the United States is willing to go over a congressional deadline after which Congress would get 60 days versus 30 days to review a prospective Iran nuclear agreement, if one is able to be reached. Analysts suggested Iran may have thought the United States was in a rush to get the deal in ahead of the deadline and was waiting to see if it would be more flexible on remaining issues. Thus, the United States was signaling it won’t be. 

“They're going to blow through July 9 so Iranians get [the] message they can't leverage [the] Congressional deadline,” Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration Middle East official, tweeted July 7.

But European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini suggested Tuesday negotiators were looking at continuing negotiations for a “couple days,” suggesting it might still be possible to conclude the agreement before July 9.

“We are continuing to negotiate the next couple days,” Mogherini told journalists in Vienna Tuesday, after ministers from the P5+1 met without Iran. It “does not mean extension.”

But it was not clear after their consultations if the P5+1 foreign ministers had come to an internal consensus on what should happen with a UN Security Council arms embargo on Iran in a new UN Security Council resolution enshrining the prospective final Iran nuclear deal.

It would be a tragic irony if a disagreement on conventional arms thwarts a deal to curtail unconventional arms, noted Ali Vaez, senior Iran the International Crisis Group. The compromise way to deal with it might be to make the UN Security Council language on arms exports to Iran nonbinding, Vaez told Al-Monitor July 7, “so that it advises that countries refrain from selling arms to Iran, but does not specifically ban it.”

Discussing sensitive negotiating positions with Al-Monitor July 6, an Iranian foreign policy analyst said on condition of anonymity, “At this stage, Iran has no interest in making … a demand that would expose it to the blame game very easily at this sensitive stage. Rather, by arguing that the arms embargo is not related to the nuclear negotiations, it seeks to make essentially this issue a matter of contention between Russia and the US, instead of between Iran and the P5+1.”

“How [the issue] will be resolved in terms of issuing a new resolution I imagine is still under discussion and is a point of contention,” the analyst added, noting that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia on July 9, around the time a final deal was expected to possibly be announced.

A former Russian diplomat said he did not expect Russia to demand an immediate removal of the arms embargo, but would instead likely press for a sideline understanding with the United States and other powers to revisit the issue on a step-by-step basis over time.

“I still believe in the ‘magic’ Russian step-by-step formula, which played well so many times during the talks,” the former Russian diplomat, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor July 6. “Which means this can be addressed a bit later in light of the changing political-military situation in the region.

“I would imagine a temporary fix in the form of an understanding on the sidelines that the parties … would continue to address the restrictions, [which are] not directly related to non-proliferation concerns, with the view to gradually removing them in the future while working to improve the overall situation and climate of confidence in the region and (maybe) in the light of progress achieved in the fight against extremist militants,” the former diplomat said.

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