- Policy Briefs
On November 24 the nuclear talks with Iran were extended for an additional seven months, as Iran and six world powers failed for the second time to agree on the fate of that country’s nuclear effort. The talks were first announced a year ago, and were extended for four months after their first deadline expired in July.
During a press conference after the extension was announced, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said “we would be fools to walk away” from the talks, which he said “have made real and substantial progress.” However, Secretary Kerry declined to describe that progress: “I emphasize we will not – in the days ahead discuss the details of the negotiations.” In response to a question about the terms of the extension, he said only that “we’re going to live under the joint agreement that we’ve already put in place a year ago […] we’re not doing anything additional beyond that, that I know of.” Secretary Kerry also hailed this joint agreement, which Iran “has lived up to,” saying it “has worked” to make the world safer by extending rather than narrowing Iran’s breakout time.
In an effort to narrow the remaining gaps, Secretary Kerry said that both sides would continue talks in December, with the “goal of finishing the political agreement within four months.” Thus, the P5+1 have until March to establish a framework for the final agreement, with an additional three months to iron out technical details. Secretary Kerry said that other options would be revisited without an agreement on “major elements” by March.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had steadfastly opposed the talks, greeted the breakdown with satisfaction. The world avoided a “bad deal,” he said in a BBC interview on November 24, and “the right deal…is to dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atomic bombs and only then dismantle the sanctions. Since that is not in the offing, this result is better, a lot better.”
On the Iranian side, President Hassan Rouhani painted the outcome as a victory. In a live address on Iranian television, he described Iran’s twin goals in pursuing nuclear talks: “to safeguard our nuclear technology […] and for the sanctions to be lifted.” He went on to say that the first was achieved because during negotiations “our centrifuges have constantly been spinning, and […] will never stop spinning,” and that the second was progressing because “some sanctions have been lifted.”
It was uncertain what the reaction might be in the U.S. Congress, where in January the Senate will pass into Republican hands. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte issued a statement on November 24 saying “this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval.” That stance will surely set up a conflict with President Barack Obama, who would probably veto any bill with such a requirement.
Also uncertain was whether Iran assumed any new obligation under the extension. On November 20, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director General, Yukia Amano, complained to the agency’s Board of Governors that Iran still had not answered the Agency’s questions about suspected nuclear weapon research. There was no indication that Iran would do so as part of the extension. Nor did it seem that Iran’s uranium production would be slowed. When the first phase of the talks ended in August, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile had the potential to produce seven bombs. At the end of the new extension, with the present rate of production, it could have the potential to produce nine. None of the parties commented on this fact.