Iran laid plans to crow over an eventual nuclear deal, but a final agreement was still elusive Monday as negotiators in Vienna haggled over details, marking yet another missed deadline for the high-stakes talks.
The White House said it wouldn’t put a cap on the time Secretary of State John F. Kerry has to reach a deal, but the extension of the talks, which have gone two weeks beyond the original July 1 deadline, was not what anyone wanted.
Indeed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had to scrap plans for an address to his nation Monday night when he planned to announce a deal, and Iranian news agency reports said the province that includes the capital city Tehran had to put its plans for a major victory celebration on hold.
All sides insisted that they remained committed and could see an end point, and The Associated Press reported late Monday that a deal could be struck as soon as Tuesday morning.
“If #IranDeal reached, triumph of diplomacy means we all will have won when we all could have lost. Plain and simply; no spin needed,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter message late Monday in Vienna.
Iran is operating under an interim deal it reached in 2013 with the U.S., the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany — collectively known as the P5+1. That agreement will continue to be extended indefinitely while the negotiations continue, the White House said.
Press secretary Josh Earnest hinted that the U.S. and its partners are prepared to stay at the table for weeks to get a final deal.
“They have made genuine progress in these conversations,” Mr. Earnest told reporters. “If it’s necessary for [talks] to continue conversations and the conversations remain useful, the negotiating team will remain in Vienna. … If the talks are not completed today, then the interim agreement will be extended again.”
In an issue that emerged just in the final days of the talks, the two sides were still grappling late Monday with whether to lift a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which Tehran wants, as well as whether the government will have to detail its history of pursuing a nuclear weapon. Tehran has repeatedly insisted that its program is designated for peaceful purposes, though international inspectors have disputed that, backed by a string of revelations about covert Iranian sites to support a nuclear program.
Mr. Earnest said the list of differences is shrinking.
“As the negotiations have gone on over the last couple weeks, what started out as a rather long list of differences has slowly … narrowed. That’s an indication we’re making progress toward an agreement,” he said.
“Currently, we are very close to the peak [of the nuclear talks], but there are still steps left to reach this peak. With the help of God, Iranian negotiators will emerge victorious from this difficult and complicated battle,” the president said, according to the news agency report.
Iran denies that its nuclear program is for military purposes, but it has repeatedly hid activities from inspectors charged with overseeing the program under an agreement that Iran signed in the 1970s. Its recalcitrance spurred the United Nations to impose an expanding list of sanctions, particularly against Iran’s financial and oil industries, and those have hit Iran’s economy hard.
Pushed to the negotiating table, Iran has tried to carve out some space for continued nuclear work. Foreign ministers from the leading nations, meanwhile, are trying to halt as much of that work as possible, arguing that if Iran does obtain a nuclear weapon it could imperil Israel and start a nuclear arms race with other regional powers.
Monday began with optimism that a final agreement would be struck during the day.
Early on, Mr. Rouhani posted a Twitter message seemingly announcing a deal. But the message was quickly changed to a more tentative statement, saying “if” a deal is reached it would be a victory for diplomacy.
The State Department shied away from commenting on Mr. Rouhani’s messages, but insisted that the differences were being narrowed at the talks.
In Washington, though, opposition to the apparent deal already was building.Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they feared President Obama had conceded on too many principles and that Iran wouldn’t be locked out of obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“I think there’s a broad bipartisan skepticism at what this deal is,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, told Fox News.”[Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said rather than prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, it actually paves the way. And that appears to be the case.”
Congress has created a process to review any final deal, and U.S. sanctions on Iran cannot be lifted until that process is complete. Still, it likely would take an eventual two-thirds vote in both chambers — enough to override a presidential veto — to stop Mr. Obama from carrying out whatever deal he signs.
Mr. Netanyahu himself opened a Twitter account in Farsi so he could take his case directly to the Iranian people: “With the continuation of the show of compromising with Iran, the path to Iran getting a nuclear bomb is paved, and they are being given billions of dollars for terrorism and invasion,” he said in one tweet, translated from Farsi by The Jerusalem Post.
The reaction to his account was not kind, and it drew a number of heated — and at times hateful — replies.
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