United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Treasury Guidance on Extension

            The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has released a series of documents on the extension of nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. On November 24, the two sides agreed to continue to implement the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). As part of the agreement, Washington has extended the sanctions relief provided in the interim deal through June 30, 2015. The following are excerpts from the Treasury’s frequently asked questions document on the extension with links to its other guides.

1. Q: What types of sanctions relief will be provided to Iran pursuant to the JPOA during the JPOA Relief Period?
             The USG has committed to suspend temporarily certain sanctions involving Iran’s purchase and sale of gold and other precious metals, Iran’s export of petrochemical products, Iran’s automotive industry, and certain associated services regarding each of the foregoing. The USG will also coordinate with Iran regarding the use of financial channels established in furtherance of the JPOA to facilitate Iran’s import of certain humanitarian goods to Iran, payment of medical expenses incurred by Iranians abroad, payments of Iran’s UN obligations, and payments of $400 million in governmental tuition assistance for Iranian students studying abroad. The USG will issue a favorable licensing policy in furtherance of the JPOA in connection with transactions related to the safety of Iran’s civil aviation industry. Finally, during the JPOA Relief Period, the USG will pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil exports and will enable Iran to access an agreed amount of Restricted Funds in installments. Unless otherwise noted, these relief measures do not include transactions with persons on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (the SDN List) (http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/SDNList/Pages/default....).
             The USG will continue to vigorously enforce our sanctions against Iran that are not subject to the limited relief provided pursuant to the JPOA, including by taking action against those who seek to evade or circumvent our sanctions. The USG also retains the authority to revoke this limited sanctions relief at any time if Iran fails to meet its commitments under the JPOA.
2. Q: How do the JPOA and the extension of relief impact U.S. sanctions on Iran?
            Except for the limited, temporary, and reversible relief provided pursuant to the JPOA, all U.S. sanctions with respect to Iran, including financial sanctions, sanctions pertaining to the purchase of Iranian crude oil, and sanctions on investment in Iran’s energy and petrochemical sectors, remain in effect with respect to U.S. and non-U.S. persons. The relief provided in the JPOA only pertains to conduct and transactions fully completed during the JPOA Relief Period, and, with limited exceptions, involves only certain sanctions on non-U.S. persons not otherwise subject to section 560.215 of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560 (ITSR) (hereinafter “non-U.S. persons not otherwise subject to the ITSR”), as described in more detail in these FAQs. U.S. persons and U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign entities continue to be generally prohibited from conducting transactions with Iran, including any transactions of the types permitted pursuant to the JPOA, unless licensed to do so by OFAC.
            For additional details regarding the steps taken by the USG to implement the temporary sanctions relief with respect to Iran pursuant to the JPOA, see the November 25, 2014 Guidance Relating to the Provision of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief.
3. Q: Are U.S. persons able to engage in any of the transactions with Iran outlined in the JPOA?
             U.S. persons and U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign entities continue to be generally prohibited from conducting transactions with Iran, including any transactions of the types permitted pursuant to the JPOA, unless licensed to do so by OFAC. This prohibition includes any associated services undertaken in conjunction with activities outlined in the JPOA. Except under limited circumstances such as for humanitarian transactions, the USG has a policy of not authorizing business with Iran. For additional information regarding the licensing of transactions related to the safety of flight for Iranian civil aviation see Question 10 below. U.S. persons and U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign entities may continue to engage in generally or specifically licensed humanitarian-related transactions.
Click here for Guidance Relating to the Provision Of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief in Order to Implement the Joint Plan of Action Reached On November 24, 2013 Between The P5+1 and The Islamic Republic Of Iran, as Extended Through June 30, 2015
Click here for Frequently Asked Questions Relating to the Extension of Temporary Sanctions Relief through June 30, 2015, to Implement the Joint Plan of Action between the P5 + 1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran​;
Click here for Second Amended Statement of Licensing Policy on Activities Related to the Safety Of Iran's Civil Aviation Industry

Experts: What Next for Diplomacy?

            The Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars asked more than thirty experts from the Middle East, Europe, and the United States for their take on what comes next for nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. Contributors to this special edition of the Viewpoints series included former diplomats, businesspeople, scholars, journalists and a former captive from the U.S. hostage crisis.
Haleh Esfandiari, Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
            On November 24, as the clock was ticking down on the deadline the negotiating parties had set for a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran and the P5+1 announced they were extending negotiations for another seven months. The deadline had been missed; the two sides were gearing up for another set of grueling negotiations. Clearly the red lines each side had set for itself—their minimum requirements for a deal—failed to come together. After 14 months of negotiations, the two sides remained far apart on most of the critical issues: the number and quality of centrifuges Iran could keep, the disposition of enriched fuel in Iran’s possession, the intrusiveness of future IAEA inspections, the extent of allowable Iranian nuclear research, the timeline for sanctions relief, and the duration of the agreement itself.
            Yet negotiation leaders on both sides expressed optimism that a deal could be reached in the next round of talks with reportedly new agreed deadlines: March 1 for a political framework agreement and July 1 for a final agreement. At the same time, both sides stressed that the road ahead remained difficult.
             What to make of this mixed message?
             The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program invited a group of top experts in the field, and a number of former Wilson Center scholars and fellows from the United States and around the world, to help provide an answer and to share their views on what the results of the just-ended round of negotiations mean and what the next round might produce.
Daniel Brumberg, Special Advisor for Iran and North Africa, United States Institute of Peace
             It is tempting to conclude that the decision to extend the P5+1 Iran nuclear negotiations until July 2015 merely represents a bid to keep a dying patient alive. But while this extension could open space for spoilers to cause trouble, I see some reason for very cautious optimism.
Having come so far, the United States and Iran have much to lose from a collapse of talks or from slipping into a void of endless tactical maneuvering. For both, failure could invite an escalation of U.S.-Iranian conflict, an outcome that neither wants, particularly in light of the security challenges posed by ISIS. Moreover, for President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and their domestic allies, the prospects for reopening the Iranian political and economic system begins with a nuclear agreement. The paradox is that while this link between domestic dynamics and international diplomacy is spurring President Rouhani on, it also presents a difficult challenge. The prospect that the credit and benefits of successful negotiations will accrue to President Rouhani gives their rivals every impetus to oppose or undermine a deal. For this reason, he and Foreign Minister Zarif are loath to make major concessions. Their chances of exiting this difficult dilemma depend on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. While his ultimate “red lines” are hard to read, they may not be as fixed as some assume.
             To get an agreement, the Supreme Leader will have to conclude—or be convinced—that a deal is not a slippery slope to a full diplomatic entente with the United States that the hardliners oppose, or a process of internal political détente that could re-polarize the internal political arena. I can imagine such an outcome, one that could slowly pry open the domestic political arena while facilitating the efforts of Iranian leaders who support a more constructive foreign policy to advance their twin agendas. But it remains far from clear that domestic politics in Tehran or Washington would allow this outcome, even if it would represent a win-win for the United States and Iran.
Patrick Clawson, Director of Research, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
             Reaching a nuclear agreement—whenever that happens—is only the start of the story. At least as important is whether the deal sticks. For Iranians, if the economy improves after an accord, the deal looks good; if the economy stagnates, the agreement looks bad. If Iran’s economy does not quickly improve apace with public expectations, disappointment with President Hassan Rouhani—already a common sentiment in Iran—may grow.
             The reality is that the impact of a nuclear deal on Iran’s economy is likely to be a complicated story. Trade sanctions will be eased only in a phased process after Tehran has demonstrated that it is implementing the deal’s provisions. Many restrictions will remain in place, such as U.S. sanctions related to terrorism. The lifting of limits on bank transfers, which is what Iran wants most, may not have much impact. Nervous about regulators’ strict enforcement of rules, banks are “de-risking” by withdrawing from business in countries seen as potentially problematic. Iran’s economic problems are extensive, going well beyond sanctions. The lower oil prices alone may be such a drag on the economy that lifting sanctions may not bring the expected relief.
             On a more positive note, the very announcement of a deal may boost public confidence, leading to more investment, and encourage European businesses to reengage with Iran. Plus, if the problem of banks’ reluctance to deal with Iran can be solved, restoring Iran’s access to more of its frozen foreign exchange reserves could have a noticeable impact, particularly in the first few years before the trade sanctions change much.
             In short, it is by no means clear how Iranians will assess the economic impact of a deal. If Iranians feel the deal has brought little, then any accord could eventually collapse and each side will blame the other for the breakdown.
Kaveh Ehsani, Assistant Professor, International Studies Department, DePaul University
             Decades of hostility and mutual distrust, compounded by seriously divided domestic polities, yet again prevented the reaching of an accord in Vienna. At the heart of the deadlock is a mutual lack of strategic vision, a mutual lack of political courage, and a debilitating self-righteousness.
             First, regarding a mutual lack of strategic vision: both sides are buying time without having a clear end point in sight. The United States and its partners want to curtail Iran’s enrichment without rethinking the long-standing “rogue state” designation that calls for isolating Iran and continuously threatening to destabilize it. This is precisely why the divided Iranian regime pursues the costly and dangerous nuclear program with some tacit public support. The P5+1 insistence that Iran ceases enrichment for a return to the status quo of the 1990s as a best case scenario will remain a stumbling block unless a more comprehensive strategic pact is considered where sanctions are lifted, Iran begins to be treated as a regional player, and the implicit and explicit threats of regime change are convincingly removed. Shared regional strategic interests in ending the Syrian civil war and preventing the emergence of ISIS and the Taliban should not only serve as the basis for cooperation, but also help build trust for the ongoing nuclear talks.
             Second, regarding a mutual lack of political courage: both parties lack the will power to accept the domestic political costs of a more comprehensive normalization of relations. For the United States this is clear—less so in the case of Iran because we believe that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has the last word there. Not so. Like Ayatollah Khomeini, Khamenei’s much more powerful predecessor, Iran’s current Supreme Leader has to play a balancing act. He has lost plenty of political capital, and even the Revolutionary Guards are divided over the strategic calculations of the rising regional chaos and the increasingly restive domestic public. For Supreme Leader Khamenei sanctioning a deal requires not only a “face-saving” compromise, as our pundits like to repeat, but very tangible material (such as the lifting of sanctions) and strategic benefits.
             Third, regarding the debilitating self-righteousness: in a 2013 Washington Post editorial, President Hassan Rouhani called for a “Time to engage.” The fact that the talks are continuing is itself a positive sign. Let us hope the next few months witness a further reduction of the polemical rhetoric on both sides. Too much is at stake in the region for this continued self-indulgence.
Farideh Farhi, former Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center, and independent researcher and Affiliate Graduate Faculty, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
             The November 24 deadline for the Iran nuclear talks came to pass with indecision and ambivalence. But two things proved to be certain: 1) there are deep differences between the United States and Iran regarding the extent of Iran’s program and sanctions relief; and 2) there is apparent unanimity that abandoning talks is the worst possible outcome.
             Although Secretary John Kerry and various P5+1 foreign policy chiefs have suggested that progress has been made on some of the most vexing issues, it is not all clear how the significant differences that could not be bridged in the past year can be overcome in the next seven months. Indeed, each side’s expectation for further compromise on the other side will continue to remain the chief stumbling block to a comprehensive solution.
             At the same time, the commitment to lessened tensions exhibited by all parties is by itself an achievement, even if generated out of fear of an even worse situation and not a positive vision of what the future of U.S. relations should look like. It suggests the prevalence of common sense in the executive branches of both Iran and the United States and appreciation of the enormous stakes involved regarding the future of Iran and its role in the Middle East in general.
             In Iran, where the stakes and impact are higher, politicians across the political spectrum, with the exception of a few, have shown unprecedented discipline in their support of the country’s nuclear team irrespective of the results. This discipline at the top is likely to continue out of choice or necessity. It may even be solidified in the face of economic challenges. But it is impossible to predict the broader impact of another seven months of uncertainty on the Iranian economy and society. Much will depend on the way the Rouhani administration manages the economy in the midst of falling oil prices and continued sanctions as well as the Obama administration’s commitment and ability to restrain forces that are determined to pressure Iran further.
Hanin Ghaddar, former Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, and Managing Editor, NOW News (Lebanon)
             World powers and Iran failed to reach an agreement on November 24, but nobody left the table. The short-term extension of talks indicates that both sides are hoping an agreement will be reached in June. During the next seven months, the region will face more sectarian tension and violence as Iran will try to use most of its regional bargaining chips in an attempt to maintain its nuclear ambitions.
             Iran’s nuclear program strengthens its regional power. The perception is that Iranian officials have from the beginning connected the negotiations to Iran’s regional standing. For Iran, which now plays a key role in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, the goal of the program is this regional hegemony. One cannot survive without the other.
             Therefore, Iran will probably now use this role more vehemently in an attempt to convince the American administration to give them a more “friendly” deal. So in the very near future, any political solution in Syria or potential coordination in Iraq will face challenges. Iran’s hardliners will make sure their voice will be heard in the region, through Qassem Suleimani’s Quds brigades in Iraq and Syria and Hezbollah.
             In the long run, Iran cannot afford war, and what it really wants is the United States to lift sanctions. The extension of the talks could result in pressure on Tehran to make concessions. Even without more sanctions, the collapse of global oil prices will further strain Iran’s economy.
             By the end of June, Iran could be too strained economically to maintain its regional role or to convince Iranians of any nuclear victory. Therefore, the United States should use this opportunity to strike a better deal: eliminate—not freeze—Iran’s capacity to build a nuclear weapon, and weaken Iran’s regional hegemony, especially in Syria.
Maybe then a better political solution could be reached.
Jubin Goodarzi, Deputy Head, International Relations Department, Webster University, Geneva
             The failure of Iran and the P5+1 to reach a comprehensive agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program by the November 24 deadline bodes ill for the future. It makes the prospects for concluding a final accord by July of next year even more problematic. Hardliners in Tehran fear that an agreement may strengthen the hand of pragmatists who desire better ties with the West. In Washington, Republicans who are hostile towards Iran will take control of both houses of Congress in January.
             This is not to say that the recent progress is doomed to fail. However, it should be underscored that the sanctions and their prolongation are decreasing the possibility of positive change within Iran. The majority of Iranians want to live in a free society and have open contacts with the outside world. However, two developments over the past five years have greatly undermined the position of the people and weakened civil society. First was the wave of repression by the regime following the unrest in response to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “re-election” in the 2009 elections. Second were the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in 2010-2011 which harmed the population and impoverished Iranian society.
             The independent middle class which is vital for economic growth, political development, and social stability has shrunk as many businesses have gone bankrupt or downsized due to the sanctions. Although the sanctions have undoubtedly harmed the regime, they have paradoxically strengthened its position vis-à-vis the population in financial and economic terms due to the decline of the independent bourgeoisie. Those businesses that had links to the regime have been able to stay afloat while those that did not have sunk. People are now more dependent on government aid and handouts. At present, Iranians are only thinking of survival and getting by day-to-day. Few entertain thoughts about political reform and freedom. Hence, the sanctions have made internal change in Iran more problematic.
             Positive change can come about in Iran through action by domestic and outside forces. The internal element, the people and civil society groups, is critical. The West needs to re-think its policies to ensure developments move in a positive direction not only on the nuclear issue, but also on other fronts. In the long run, the emergence of a moderate and progressive Iran is essential for ensuring regional stability and international security.
Bernard Hourcade, Global Fellow and former Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center, and Senior Research Fellow Emeritus, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris
             Victory for both sides? Yes, or at least a political success for the Obama and Rouhani/Khamenei administrations, because after 35 years of cold war both countries have resumed daily de facto diplomatic and political relations. The nuclear issue was efficiently used by all partners of the negotiations as a tool to resume relations on a strong foundation.
The main problem is not so much the agreement, but, rather its implementation, to avoid what happened to the agreement of October 2003. Fortunately, both sides have taken the needed time and agreed on a modus vivendi—a roadmap to fill the holes that they have left in the agreement, step by step, far from the ideological debates and the media lights.
             In Iran and in Western countries, the opponents to any form of compromise are still strong, but it will be difficult for them to oppose this “agreement with holes,” which will likely be a long-term process. The Iranian radicals are scared of the social and cultural consequences of a political opening. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some Western lobbies seem to be resigned—all of them will have to deal with a major turn in the regional balance of power: the “return of Iran,” or more precisely the arrival of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a regional power and as a proactive, rather than a reactive, state.
             What is at stake now is the political management of the future sustainable stability of the Middle East, a task that Saudi Arabia and its partners were unable to fulfill. The nuclear debates, with or without a comprehensive agreement, have been a key to opening a door. The questions to know now are who will use that door and for what.
Meir Javedanfar, Iranian politics lecturer, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya,
and Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst
             “Tamdid-e Omid,” meaning extension of hope, is how the Iranian reformist daily Shargh described the recent joint decision by Iran and the P5+1 to extend the negotiations until next July.
             And much hope from now until next July is needed by those who want the negotiations to succeed, because until then the position of hardliners on both sides is going to become stronger.
             The Republicans who will be taking over the U.S. Senate are likely to become more vociferous against President Barack Obama until next July. Let’s not forget that they are already furious with President Obama's recent immigration reforms. In retaliation they could become more adamant in undermining President Obama's negotiations with Iran.
             At the same time, we in Israel could have early elections by then. Iran is likely to become one of the main issues in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. This time he could become even more aggressive toward Iran than in the last elections in January 2013, because other hardliners, such as Naftali Bennett—Israeli Minister of the Economy and the leader of the Bayit Yehudi party (Jewish Home)—are becoming more popular among Israeli conservatives at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s expense.
             Meanwhile the hardliners in Iran are also likely to continue their campaign to isolate President Hassan Rouhani. For example, they have already made life unbearably difficult for him in the Iranian Majlis (parliament). His Minister of Science, Research and Technology, Reza Faraji-Dana, was dismissed in August by this overwhelmingly conservative body. And since then, parliament has rejected four of President Rouhani's nominees for the post.
             Then there is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei himself who has the last word on Iran's nuclear program. He has always been a conservative. As Iran's post-revolution history shows, the only time he has been flexible is when he has been under pressure. And if from now and until next July he decides that Iran could live with sanctions by relying more on trade with other countries such as Russia, then chances of a deal will evaporate.
Bijan Khajehpour, Managing Partner, Atieh International
             The announcement of an extension of the nuclear deal on November 24 will lead to diverse reactions among economic stakeholders. While Iran’s government will try to maintain the positive momentum that the interim deal has generated, the wait-and-see mode of many of the economic players will continue until it is more certain whether a comprehensive deal will be achieved. The current hesitant mode of many of the investors in the Iranian market undermines the country’s economic potential. Large sums of capital are currently locked in unproductive hedging mechanisms (such as investment in gold and hard currency) while the economy actually needs them in productive investments that could generate the needed jobs and economic growth. The impact of the wait-and-see mode is mostly felt in the property market, which has been stagnant for some time—considering the significance of the housing market for job creation and growth in Iran, an end to the current mode cannot come soon enough.
             At the same time, a growing number of businesses inside and outside Iran will continue to look for ways to position themselves for the opening of the Iranian market. The interim nuclear deal has already generated an economic momentum in trade between Iran and the West and this trend will continue, mainly focusing on business sectors that are not subject to existing sanctions. Though all companies are hampered by banking sanctions, the mere size of the Iranian market and the abundance of opportunities will attract many companies that will try to look for viable trade and banking solutions to work with Iran. Other companies, who will have to wait for actual sanctions relief, will continue to look for ways to position themselves for the anticipated future opening of the market. There is no doubt that the growing interaction between Iranian and international companies will pave the way for a number of initiatives, joint ventures, and increased trade as soon as the relevant sanctions are removed.
Rami Khouri, former Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, and Founding Member and Senior Policy Fellow, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut
             The extension in the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 reflects welcomed wisdom and rationality on both sides and a deeper expectation that a final, permanent agreement will be reached in the months ahead. My main takeaways:
1. The maturity, patience, and seriousness on both sides are impressive, and a far cry from the almost lunatic threats, insults, and deprecations that had defined Iranian-American-Israeli exchanges in recent years. Both sides need to reach an agreement because the cost of failure is too high all around, especially given the precarious state of the Middle East where both Iran and relevant foreign powers are deeply engaged and invested—and therefore vulnerable to retaliatory punitive mischief in case of failure.
2. Technical issues related to both the Iranian nuclear industry and sanctions on Iran can be addressed seriously and dispassionately, and disagreements gradually resolved, if hysterical positions and wild accusations are ignored. Instead both sides can focus on practical reciprocal measures that meet their needs. Simultaneity and reciprocity of concessions, it is confirmed again, are critical elements for success.
3. Decisive leadership everywhere can overcome extremist ideological positions of domestic foes. In particular, the continuing serious negotiations are a big blow to the power of the pro-Israel lobbies in Washington, D.C. that had argued for zero uranium enrichment in Iran.
4. Iran has provided an important lesson for the world on how a firm, law-and-legitimacy anchored position on the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes can be vindicated if a country does not allow itself to be pushed around and threatened by primarily American-Israeli-driven accusations and assumptions that are rarely supported by hard, credible evidence. Self-respect, it seems, is a useful diplomatic tool when one has facts at hand to reinforce one’s case.
Cliff Kupchan, Chairman, Practice Head for Eurasia, and Iran Director, Eurasia Group
             The trite but ineluctable question: what can they solve in the next seven months that couldn’t be resolved over the past year? Yes, the low oil price puts new pressure on Iran, and President Barack Obama really wants a foreign policy legacy. But as of today, there’s a new and central fact: both sides gave it their best shot in Vienna, and they didn’t come very close. The size of Iran’s enrichment capability, the speed of sanctions relief, and a host of other issues haven’t been resolved.
             A deal is still doable, though it’s less likely today than it was on November 23. Two other trajectories are now quite possible.
             The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) could well become a very long-term interim agreement. It freezes Iran’s nuclear program—keeping the Israelis mildly content—and provides some sanctions relief for Iran. If neither side will bend on substance, keeping the JPOA in place as a partial agreement may be the best we can do. It’s not stable in its current form—Iran can conduct centrifuge research and development that the United States will find unacceptable, and the agreement doesn’t give Iran much sanction relief. But with some nips and tucks, the JPOA could last a long time.
             Alternatively, and of concern, the U.S. Congress could take over the show. A new sanctions bill will likely move in the next Congress, which would remove more Iranian oil from the market and add new measures. The Republicans would need 13 Democratic votes to override a veto; that’s possible if talks still stall. Then we’ve got real trouble. The P5+1 coalition could crack as Russia and China say enough on sanctions. And Iran could walk from the talks.
The academic community should maintain its focus on helping craft innovative ways to reach a deal. But we’ve now got to move on and think through the dynamics of a partial deal, and the implications of a risky outcome that’s dictated by Congress.
Ellen Laipson, President and CEO, Stimson Center
             If we take the high road, the extension of the talks is certainly better than some of the alternatives and need not precipitate an unraveling of what has been achieved to date. In fact, the parties have agreed to continue to implement the current measures, including Iranian production restraint and Western payments of frozen assets. The diplomats who have been engaged in the long slog of talks with Iran over its nuclear activities must be both disappointed and relieved by the decision to extend the negotiations until June 2015. The months of consultations and creative thinking, not to mention persuading big governments to endorse new negotiating positions, have been preoccupying for senior officials in all the participating countries. It will be challenging to sustain that level of intensity and bureaucratic focus, and one should worry that the momentum will be lost now that the timeline is extended. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that more time does not necessarily make the task easier. But the talks did not collapse, the parties did not accuse each other of bad faith, and a quick return to belligerent new punitive measures is not likely. Polling suggests that publics in both the United States and Iran accept that compromise will be required for a deal—and one can hope that the politicians and power brokers are listening.
John Limbert, Distinguished Professor, International Affairs, U.S. Naval Academy
             For 35 years Iran and the United States have agreed only that the other side represents absolute evil. In 2013, however, Tehran and Washington decided to pursue an accord on Iran’s disputed nuclear program. The two sides, within the framework of the P5+1, moved beyond the quibbling and sterile exchanges that had characterized their meetings for years.
             New words were heard. Both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described encounters as “productive” and “positive,” novel descriptions of any Iranian-American encounter since 1979.
             Changes of tone represent progress in relations that for 35 years consisted of trading threats and insults. Whatever happens with the nuclear negotiations, the United States and Iran stand now in a place very different from where they were during the long 15 freeze. There is new professionalism and the ability to forego the empty rhetoric that for decades had masqueraded as “negotiation.
             It remains ironic that the two sides agreed to focus on the almost intractable nuclear question. The United States has put great effort into resolving technical and legal issues such as centrifuges, inspections, and enrichment. The Iranian side, however, has different issues: national pride and status, and that elusive, powerful goal of “justice.”
             On the nuclear question, a wise former U.S. ambassador said to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “What you want, we cannot deliver; what we want, you cannot deliver.”
             With 35 years of stored mistrust, we should recognize that the intricate mix of political and technical issues has made it too hard for the sides to say “yes.” We should find other areas—Afghanistan or combating extremist groups—where mutual interests and benefits of cooperation are obvious. Once both sides realize that agreeing with an old enemy will not bring down the sky, we can return to the nuclear issue with a better chance of agreement.
Robert Litwak, Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies, Woodrow Wilson Center
             At the outset of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran last January, three outcomes were possible—a breakthrough (yielding a comprehensive agreement), a breakdown (marking the end of diplomacy), and muddling through (a decision to keep negotiating).
             A complete breakdown was unlikely because all the parties, especially President Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama, were heavily invested in the process and the collapse of the talks carried a significant risk of escalating into a full-blown crisis. A breakthrough was possible, but would have required a strategic decision by the Tehran regime to accept an agreement with the P5+1 allowing Iran to retain a bounded uranium enrichment program in return for intrusive inspections to ensure that Iran’s “civil” nuclear program is not a masquerade for a weapons program. From a technical perspective, such an agreement was within reach. The United States had years before fallen off its diplomatically untenable position of a full rollback of the Iranian program. Hence, the negotiations have been focused on limiting, not eliminating, Iran’s uranium enrichment capability. (This is the point of contention between Obama and his congressional critics.) The hedge for a weapon inherent to its mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle is Iran’s strategic sweet spot—keeping the option for the bomb open while avoiding the international and regional costs of overt weaponization.
             That the negotiations were not able to reach a technical agreement on this basis is testimony to the quintessentially political character of the issue. In Iran, the nuclear question is a proxy for the more fundamental debate about the relationship of the Islamic Republic with the United States and the outside world—or, in former President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s words, whether Iran is a revolutionary state or an ordinary country. The extension of the talks—muddling through—is a reflection of that persisting tension with no assurance that it can be resolved by June 2015.
William Luers, Director, The Iran Project
             With the November 24 announcement that the P5+1 talks with Iran will be extended, both sides have indicated how serious and determined they have been and how complex the talks are. In my lifetime I have not witnessed a more complicated negotiation involving: 2 states that have not had official contact for 35 years and have developed mutual distrust; 7 nations representing separate points of view; a cluster of technical, scientific, and intelligence issues that are unprecedented; large, powerful domestic oppositions; and forceful opposition from some of our closest friends. It is of little wonder the talks have dragged on.
             The opposition to the talks in the United States and Iran has been heard. Negotiators did not give up on vital interests. What lies ahead is likely to be even bolder political opposition inside Tehran and Washington and continued bargaining in Vienna to achieve a deal that the American and Iranian administrations want and must have with a narrative that works in Iran and the United States. Meanwhile it remains unclear how the United States and Iran might discuss collaboration in Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and with ISIS.
This delay will cause no increased threat to the United States and friends in the region. The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action provides substantially more security for the United States and the world than existed before. Iran’s nuclear program is no longer growing—it has either been frozen or reduced. The inspections regime of Iran’s nuclear facilities has also been extended and made more frequent. Some of the facilities of greatest concern are visited daily by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. The 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile has been eliminated.
             The U.S. Congress, while maintaining a watchful eye over the negotiations, should not take actions that cut off further negotiations. If Congress breaks up the talks, then they will own the potentially catastrophic consequences, including a declining U.S. leadership in the world and possibly a war.
Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow, Saban Center, Brookings Institution
             If time is the obstacle to resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis, then the November 24 decision to extend negotiations for seven additional months would represent an encouraging step forward. But as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry conceded, “These talks aren't going to suddenly get easier just because we extend them.” In fact, just the opposite—a variety of factors will conspire to complicate what is already an excruciatingly thorny problem.
             After a year of intensive diplomacy, the failure to agree upon even the outlines of a deal raises doubts about whether the impasse is indeed reconcilable. The world may have to settle for crisis management with Iran rather than conflict resolution. This would be a tolerable outcome for Washington and may even be a preferable outcome for the Iranian leadership. But it would be a tragedy for Iran.
             As long as a comprehensive resolution remains out of reach, the sanctions that have slashed Iran’s oil revenues will remain in place. International adherence to the measures may fray around the edges, particularly if the incoming Republican Congress adopts provocative new measures. Still, the United States’ unilateral financial sanctions will continue to force the world to choose between Iranian and U.S. markets. In reality, this is hardly a choice at all.
             The Islamic Republic can and almost surely will survive. Despite an always boisterous political debate, there is greater consensus on key foreign policy issues—including the nuclear issue—today than at any point in recent history. And Iran’s diversified economy and its experience in imposing austerity will enable the state to muddle through the hit to the state’s budget from sanctions and falling oil prices.
             Still, the sanctions will continue to lower growth rates, reduce the number of jobs available, provoke exchange rate instability, intensify other economic vulnerabilities, and attenuate the country’s ties to the world. And as since 1979, the Iranians will suffer the brunt of their government’s disastrous decisions.
Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center
             Woody Allen once famously quipped that 80 percent of success in life is just showing up. But he was wrong—much of success in life is showing up at the right time. This is true in spades for negotiations too. And the failure to reach a comprehensive deal with Iran on the nuclear issue reveals something about the timing of this deal that wasn’t quite right.
Clearly, urgency is a critical factor in negotiations. There has to be sufficient quantities of pain and gain to make big decisions. And at least on the Iranian side there really wasn’t. Here’s why:
First, no matter how flexible the negotiators wanted to be, it was the leaders in Tehran—one in particular—whose views prevailed. And neither President Hassan Rouhani nor Foreign Minister Javad Zarif could convince Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that Iran’s leverage would diminish in the face of a Republican-controlled Congress.
             Second, however painful sanctions were, Iran has readjusted and managed to find ways to muddle through. It’s not perfect and Iran is hurting, but Tehran’s threshold for pain is a good deal higher than we believed.
             Third, whatever Iran’s other material interests in cutting a deal, its values—dignity, pride, and the importance of a nuclear weapons capacity in defiance of Western demands—were more important.
             Fourth, the regional situation has persuaded the mullahs that Iran’s centrality in U.S. policy is only increasing. America needs Tehran to stabilize Iraq and Syria and to fight ISIS. It may be misguided, but the fact that Iran believes it’s winning suggests that there was less urgency to settle and much more incentive to wait.
             Finally, if an agreement was to have been reached, Iran would have had to be paid much more in terms of easing and suspending sanctions. And no U.S. negotiator—or president—was in a position in this highly charged political climate to do that.
William Miller, Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center
             The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on the nuclear status of Iran have been extended until July 1, 2015. There is great disappointment that a final agreement could not have been reached by November 24 after a year of intensive negotiations. Nonetheless, an agreement that is satisfactory to all parties can still be attained, although it will be far more difficult to achieve.
             The principles that have already been agreed to are crucially important. These principles are: 1) Iran will remain a non-nuclear weapons state; 2) Iran will have the full right to use nuclear energy and materials for peaceful purposes under the terms agreed to as an Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory; 3) Iran has agreed to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring, inspections, and safeguards in accordance with the requirements of the NPT, including the Additional Protocol; 4) the IAEA has effective means to monitor and verify Iran’s observance to the terms of an agreement, provided that the IAEA receives Iran’s full cooperation; and 5) economic and other sanctions imposed against Iran related to its nuclear program will be removed.
             Iran’s declaratory policy that is based on religious rulings by the highest authorities in Iran states that nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction are forbidden. It
is expected that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will not permit any nuclear weapons activities.
             There is no reason to believe that the technical gaps that remain between the parties’ positions cannot be bridged in ways that are perceived by all parties as fair and just.
The United States, Iran, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, and Germany as major world powers should work together expeditiously to finish the last stages of the agreement and should be given the full support of their government institutions and peoples in this difficult task. This agreement is critically important to maintaining world peace and will strengthen the international non-proliferation regime, creating a more secure future for our children.
Payam Mohseni, Iran Project Director and Fellow, Iran Studies, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
             In the wake of yet another extension in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the next step for the United States to move toward a final comprehensive agreement with Iran is to engage with those Iranians it likes the least—the hardliners. Crafting a sophisticated agreement capable of persuading Iranian hardliners and the Revolutionary Guards to accept a final deal is essential to moving the negotiations forward. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his moderate team of negotiators are constrained by the hardliners who, in turn, have nothing to lose if negotiations fail. While the lifting of international sanctions is commonly considered to be the main economic incentive for Iran to agree to a deal, we should be aware that many U.S. sanctions will remain against key hardline actors in the Iranian regime for non-nuclear related reasons. In other words, those hardline elements most opposed to the current talks—the spoilers—are also the ones that have the least to gain from their success. If Rouhani does not get a final deal, however, the moderates are the ones with the most to lose as they have staked their legitimacy on these talks. By engaging the hardliners, and including them in the conversation, the United States can actually strengthen the hand of the moderates and increase the chances for the talks to succeed. It will also allow the United States to discuss its larger concerns about Iran’s role in the region, including the mutual fight against ISIS, energy security, and the possibility to form more inclusive governments in Iraq and Syria.
Afshin Molavi, former Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center; and Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation
             As the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program ground to an anti-climactic seven-month extension, Iran observers should now turn their eyes this week to… Vienna again? Yes, the OPEC ministerial meeting on November 27 in Vienna takes on added importance in a time of declining oil prices pinching Iran’s economy further, leaving the Islamic Republic less fiscal space to maneuver amid a strangling sanctions-environment that inhibits growth.
Iran wants OPEC to cut production to prop up a declining oil price, hovering at $80 per barrel for the benchmark Brent Crude—a fall of nearly 30 percent since June. In late October, President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as saying that “the country’s main source of income, oil revenues, has been cut by some 30 percent.” He noted further: “We have to deal with the new condition and the global economic conditions.”
             One of “the new condition(s)” is the rise of U.S. shale oil production. From 2010 through today, U.S. shale oil has added more than 3 million barrels of production to the world market, bringing U.S. oil production to nearly 9 million bpd (barrels per day). Iran’s oil production was only 2.77 million bpd in October, a far cry from Iran’s potential and well below ambitious targets of 4 million bpd set by Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zanganeh. In short, U.S. shale oil has virtually added another Iran—and then some—to world oil markets in the last three years.
             What’s more, Iran’s exports fell to 1.25 million barrels per day in August, according to the Joint Organisations Data Initiative—a near record low over the past three decades. Oil markets are oversupplied by about 2 million bpd, owing partly to new production as well as slowing demand in China and Europe. That’s why markets virtually ignored the loss of a million barrels of Iranian crude over the past two years.
             Iran needs an oil price of anywhere between $135 (IMF figure) to $143 (Bloomberg data figure) per barrel to achieve a break-even sales price to maintain fiscal balance. Iran can hardly afford to run deficits. OPEC cannot come to Iran’s rescue, nor does it wield ultimate market-making power, but a significant cut will tick prices upward, offering Iran some much-needed relief. This will not be a panacea, and Iran’s oil sector—like its general economy—will continue to flounder and underperform without a comprehensive nuclear deal.
Alireza Nader, Senior International Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation
             Iran and the P5+1 (United States, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany) have decided to extend the year-long negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. The decision to do so does not come as a great surprise, as the negotiations involve very complicated technical and political issues. And while it is disappointing that a comprehensive decision has not been reached, the extension is better than the alternatives.
             A break down in nuclear talks could lead the U.S. Congress to enact additional sanctions, which in turn could prompt Iran to loosen the constraints on its nuclear program and even escalate by enriching uranium to a higher degree. This would send Iran and the United States on a dangerous collision course that would heighten the chances of military conflict over the nuclear program.
             At the same time, the extension raises political pressure on President Barack Obama. Congress is deeply skeptical of Iran’s intentions and would no doubt come under additional pressure to increase sanctions at a crucial time. But new sanctions before the conclusion of nuclear talks could also help Iran win the blame game; Tehran could claim that it is trying to bridge its differences with the P5+1 while being stymied by new American sanctions.
             At the same time, the Iranian government must understand that negotiations are not open-ended. Iran will continue to receive limited sanctions relief of about $700 million per month, but this pales in comparison to the estimated $100 billion of its frozen funds. Iran’s failure to reach a deal in the next few months could have disastrous results for its economy. It is time for the Iranian government to show greater flexibility. It may have gained a few additional months, but in the long run, time is not on its side.
Rouzbeh Parsi, Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Rights Studies, Lund University
             Since the Joint Plan of Action was agreed upon in November 2013, the interaction between the P5+1 and Iran has reached such a level of regularity that it no longer makes headlines. This achievement, a necessary component of real negotiations, should not be forgotten as hardliners on both sides now clamor for tougher stances and harp on it saying that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
             In the last month it has become clear that the negotiations are going well enough for there to be hope of success. Yet there is enough built-in resistance (suspicion, overestimating one’s own strength and underestimating that of the counterpart, and domestic and foreign spoilers) to, yet again, let the moment slip by.
             Most likely both sides have taken another step toward coming to terms with what has been clear to everybody from the start: no one is going to emerge from these negotiations as a clear winner because both sides will have to make painful concessions.
             The surprise is that they decided on a lengthy extension of seven months. While we can speculate on the reasons for this, one thing is clear: the extension is not just a breath of air for the negotiators but also a real possibility for the spoilers to derail the negotiations, including the U.S. Congress, hardliners in Tehran, and U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. The gamble of the negotiators seems to be that whatever they have not been able to bring themselves to finalize so far is within reach and that an extension is worth the risk of having the whole process derailed by opponents of a deal. One can only hope that the Obama and Rouhani administrations will keep up the momentum and straighten every remaining question while trying to make Tel Aviv and Riyadh understand that a deal is to everyone's benefit.
Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman, Gulf Research Center
             The news that no agreement was reached during the current round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program did not come as a surprise to the Gulf region. What the
outcome shows is that the so-called narrowing of differences between the P5+1 and Iran remains incomplete. The view from the Gulf region is that at this stage no agreement has become an unacceptable outcome for all parties. Whatever the obstacles at the moment, there is also the conviction among the GCC states that some form of agreement will eventually be reached in order to end the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program. The commitment of all sides to continue negotiations with a new deadline being put forward indicates the likelihood of an eventual agreement.            
             This is what the GCC states anticipate, and as a result they are preparing themselves to calculate the consequences of such a development and an eventual agreement. Here the real issue is that a nuclear agreement will open the door for the rehabilitation of Iran in the international (Western) community, and ultimately lead to the re-building of U.S.–Iranian relations. While there are concerns about the nature of a new era of U.S.–Iranian ties and its impact on the region, it is also the case that the actual consequences of such a development cannot be predicted or assessed. Nevertheless, the rebuilding of trust between Iran and the main Western powers alone—a result of the negotiations so far—is an achievement for Iran.
An agreement will have the positive outcome that it will remove the possibility of a regional war that could possibly be triggered by an Israeli military attack. Yet doubts about Iranian intentions will continue because other core issues of concern for the GCC states about Iran remain unresolved.
Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
             In negotiations, agreement is possible if a deal’s value exceeds that of each party’s best alternative, and if it gains the support of the necessary constituencies on both sides and among other parties with the power to block or bolster it.
             By these metrics, U.S. diplomacy with Iran is not yet positioned for success. Iran’s need for a comprehensive deal with the United States—a prospect unwelcome amongst Iranian hardliners in any event—was diminished by the Joint Plan of Action. That agreement both provided to Iran nuclear concessions it will seek to pocket even if no subsequent deal is reached and offered time and space to recover from what had been an accelerating economic decline.
             Even as a deal appears less necessary to Iran, the alternatives likely seem less alarming, as both increased sanctions and the “military option” have diminished in credibility. The result is a reduced incentive for Iran to accept a deal, to which the Obama administration has responded by improving the deal’s terms in a manner that has alarmed the constituencies—both Congress and regional allies—whose support will be necessary for an agreement to succeed.
             The question, therefore, is not whether an extension was merited, but how to change the negotiating dynamics so that the next iteration of talks is more successful than the past year’s efforts. To this end, President Obama should:
• along with the EU, warn Iran that the concessions in the Joint Plan of Action expire with that agreement, and that no substantive enhancements to the P5+1 offer will be forthcoming;
• communicate more transparently with Congress and allies and find plausible modifications to the U.S. negotiating stance that could assuage their concerns;
• work with Congress to impose sanctions if talks do not succeed by a certain date, improve enforcement of existing sanctions, and devise a mutually agreeable approach to sanctions relief—and to penalizing Iranian cheating—if a deal is reached;
• push back on destabilizing Iranian activities in the Middle East.
Barbara Slavin, Nonresident Senior Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council, and Washington correspondent, Al-Monitor.com
            There was no dancing in the streets of Tehran on November 24, just another day of dashed expectations. Despite the efforts of President Hassan Rouhani to portray the latest round of nuclear negotiations as a victory, there will be no significant sanctions relief for many more months, just a dribbling of Iran's own oil revenues. The failure of Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany to reach even the outlines of a comprehensive deal during high-level talks in Vienna means that the “wheels” of Iranian factories will continue to spin more slowly than Iran’s centrifuges.
            The long extension of last year’s interim agreement is particularly worrisome. While it is better than no agreement at all, opponents of U.S.-Iran reconciliation will certainly use the next seven months to try to sabotage any deal that would trade a limited Iranian uranium enrichment program for major sanctions relief. If the incoming Republican-led U.S. Congress tries to enact new sanctions, that will only reinforce the distrust of Iranian hardliners and undermine the already limited ability of Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to compromise on the nuclear issue. Rouhani may also be inhibited from taking other steps to curb the excesses of the Iranian security state.
            If there is a silver lining, it is that U.S. and Iranian diplomats will continue to have a reason to meet periodically to discuss the nuclear program and perhaps other pressing regional issues, such as the menace of the group that calls itself the Islamic State. But the chances for enhanced cooperation—particularly to reduce the level of violence in Syria—look slim in the absence of a nuclear deal. More and more, the nuclear talks are beginning to resemble the long-running unsuccessful U.S.-led efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, with process substituting for peace.
John Tirman, Executive Director and a Principal Research Scientist at MIT's Center for International Studies
            The continuation of talks is preferable to outright failure, of course, but extension comes with a set of hurdles that may prove crippling. First and foremost are the Republican and Israeli lobby opposition in the United States that will use this period to undermine the president. Most directly, they could strip away his authority to suspend sanctions. Republican majorities will be eager to humiliate President Barack Obama on Iran, and there may be enough Democrats who would go along with this to override an Obama veto.
Second, as details of the deal’s rough outlines become public, the opposition can mount attacks on the weak areas—the number of centrifuges in particular—and insist loudly that Iran would have a short breakout path in a race to a weapon. This “breakout” worry is a false construction, because Iran is very much deterred from moving toward nuclear arms. The consequences of doing so could be catastrophic for the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet much media and political gossip will focus on breakout as if it’s a completely independent phenomenon.
            Third is a “black swan.” Unexpected things happen in the world (and some things that look accidental but are not) that can upset relations and shatter fragile diplomacy: a hostile encounter in Iraq or Syria, a sunken tanker in the Gulf—there are many chilling scenarios. The longer a period of diplomacy stretches out, the more likely something will go awry.
It’s disturbing that the diplomats failed to conclude an agreement; it is a failure of political will rather than misunderstandings or a need to sort out details. It will now be more, not less, difficult as spoilers do their work. The news media welcomes the doubters, because they’re good copy. But this is the situation at hand, and we can only hope that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry can move decisively to a favorable conclusion.
Roberto Toscano, former Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center; President, Intercultura Foundation, Italy; and former Italian Ambassador to Iran and India
            No deal in Vienna. Pessimists talk of failure; optimists say that it is only the postponement of an agreement in both sides’ interest that will eventually be reached.
We could probably have recourse to use the tired simile of the half full/half empty glass. But there is a problem: it is the glass itself that is now at stake. Plenty of people would like to break it, both in Washington and in Tehran.
            The fact is that the nuclear issue has never really been about the bomb, or at least not mainly. It is about Iran’s relations with the United States, about its regional role, about the geopolitical competition across the Persian Gulf, about the Israeli government’s need for an issue bigger than the Palestinian problem, and, last but not least, about the future of Hassan Rouhani’s centrist presidency.It’s about the politics, not the centrifuges.
            The negotiations were conducted by the two sides with goodwill and top diplomatic skill (rarely had one seen at work together the likes of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns). An agreement had been reached—according to some sources—on 95 percent of the issues. The last step needed for a positive conclusion was political, both for Washington and Tehran.
            We do not know what really stuck and who really stalled. The guess is that, rather than the number of centrifuges or the breakout time, what turned out to be unsolvable was the demand of the P5+1 for some immediate, upfront delivery in terms of reductions and limitations on the part of Iran in exchange for a merely gradual lifting of sanctions.
Besides, neither President Barack Obama nor President Hassan Rouhani really has a free hand. If President Rouhani has a skeptical Supreme Leader to convince, President Obama has a hostile and Netanyahu-sensitive Congress with whom he has to deal. And that will not improve between now and the new June deadline.
Jim Walsh, Research Associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program
            What’s next for the P5+1? Apparently, quite a bit of work.
            News that the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are to be extended cannot be described as anything other than a disappointment, and the fact that the extension is for some seven months suggests that the differences between the two parties are deeper than observers thought.
            Obviously, it is better that the deadline be extended rather than have the talks collapse. The Joint Plan of Action has been, by far, the single most effective tool for reducing the dangers posed by Iran’s nuclear program and for building confidence between the parties. The end of the Joint Plan would have been a disaster. Iran’s program would have been left unconstrained and with far less transparency.
            Still, one cannot help but suspect that the parties may have missed their last, best chance to resolve the dispute. Few analysts expect that President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani will be in a stronger position politically seven months from now. And during this period, those who oppose diplomacy will seek to cause mischief. A new U.S. Congress, for example, may attempt to impose new sanctions in an effort to scuttle the negotiations. Others in the region may act in similarly unhelpful ways. There is also the possibility that changes in the U.S.-Russian relationship over the next several months or events on the ground in the Middle East could present new obstacles.
            In short, things may get harder, not easier. And if the result is that this opportunity slips away, then President Obama and his team will have some difficult explaining to do. Why has the president myopically focused on “breakout time” as the measure of an agreement, despite the fact that the metric itself is deeply flawed and that the risks are overstated? How ironic it would be if the president, who spoke in Prague about a world without nuclear weapons, managed to fritter away the single most important opportunity of his presidency for reducing the nuclear threat.
Robin Wright, Wilson Center-USIP Distinguished Scholar
            The continued deadlock between Iran and the world’s major powers over Tehran’s nuclear program is one of those glass half-full, half-empty predicaments.
            This is the bad news: there’s no deal after a year of unprecedented, in-the-weeds talks among slews of experts from Iran and the world’s six major powers. To extend, yet again, signals a rigidity of positions that may ultimately make a deal elusive. Now the process will drag on another four months to reach a political agreement, with another three months, until June 30, to draft all the technicalities for long-term implementation.
            The danger is that the process will lose momentum and potentially even credibility during the interim. Diplomacy also too often gets derailed by events on the ground, whether among the players or within the volatile Middle East. And after the U.S. election this month, both houses of Congress will have Republican majorities, which could also make winning support for an agreement made by a Democratic administration harder. Any deal will be scrutinized—and effectively get enmeshed in domestic politics—far more in seven months than during the last days of a Democratic-controlled Senate.
            But there is some good news too: all sides seem sincere in their commitment to keep trying to prevent Iran from producing a bomb. President Hassan Rouhani went on national television the night of November 24 and predicted there will be a deal and dismissed naysayers. The diplomacy has already produced one important result: the atmospherics between the United States and Iran have changed dramatically during the past year. After 35 years of tensions, the two countries have opened their own dialogue that has produced discussions of a few issues on the sidelines. Officials at the highest levels of the two governments actually know each other fairly well now—and communicate by phone and email in between the talks. It may not be rapprochement, but it is an important beginning.
            In Vienna on November 24, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “We have made real and substantial progress on some of the most vexing challenges, and we now see the path toward potentially resolving some issues that have been intractable.” New ideas had emerged over the weekend that all parties are taking back home to discuss. "Given how far we've come over the past year—and particularly in the last few days—this is certainly not the time to get up and walk away."
            Fair enough. The alternatives—breakdown, new tensions, even the possibility of confrontation down the road—have no attraction either.
            The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Woodrow Wilson Center.
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Vienna Nuke Talks: Iran Hardliners React

            Hardliners in Iran's parliament and media criticized ongoing nuclear talks with the world's six major powers, following the announcement that negotiations will be extended for seven months. Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States had to extend the talks for a second time after failing to reach an agreement by the November 24 deadline. Some lawmakers reportedly chanted "Down with America" after Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard expressed support for the extension during a parliamentary session on November 25. Meanwhile, hardline newspaper Kayhan ran the headline "Village headman [United States] wasn't trustworthy, sanctions extended." The following are statements from parliament members and translations of headlines from Iranian newspapers disapproving of continued diplomatic engagement with the West. 
Reactions from Members of Parliament
Member of Parliament Hamid Rasaei
            "It's already a year since Mr. Rouhani tried his magic key to turn around America's wolfish nature. Instead of turning, the key of trust and optimism broke in the lock."
            "We have no idea what happened in Vienna ... What has been agreed upon in Vienna?"
            Nov 25, 2014 according to the press
            "Our criticism relates to [Rouhani's] optimism towards the West."
            Nov. 25, 2014 according to the press
Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard
            “The remarks by US secretary of state who says sanctions regime remained intact and Iran remained committed to the Geneva deal… implies the excessive demands of the US statesmen and their insolent attitude.”
            “Both of us (Iranian and the US officials) and also the world know that sanctions have not been left intact, but the Iranian nation’s resistance forced you (Americans) to consider the negotiation as a way out of the impasse you have created and come to the negotiation table after accepting a nuclear Iran.”
            Nov. 25, 2014 in a parliamentary session
            "The reality of the negotiations over the past year shows that one needs to talk to America and its (Western) allies from a position of power, the language of force.”
            "Only a nation that has the upper hand can defend its interests in the present world order, the language of force."
            Nov 25, 2014 according to the press
Member of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy Mansour Haghighatpour

            "Iran does not give in its long-term interests."
            "Our national interests should remain intact."
            "We had never pinned our hopes to the deal."
            Nov 25, 2014 according to the press
Member of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Mohammad Kowsari
            “We believe that after a year and so, practically there has been no agreement at all; extension of talks is an outcome and indication of failure of both sides in hammering out a deal, which forced them to extend the time to negotiate.
            “The government should not put all his eggs on the negotiation basket; if it expects a successful negotiation, it should set limits to that so that it would not go beyond the line. If this second stage of talks also fails, and there is a third stage, the government should abandon it altogether; if the government does not have the support of the nation inside, it definitely will concede damage.”
            Dec. 8, 2014 to Mehr News
Reactions from the Media
Vatan-e Emrooz
            A front-page editorial added, "A year has passed since the Geneva accord. Nuclear negotiations for the removal of sanctions did not reach a result...This is to cover up that negotiations in fact failed because of America's excessive demands."
            Nov. 25, 2014 via Al-Arabiya

"Village headman [United States] wasn't trustworthy, sanctions were extended."

"Seven months of CPR [artificial respiration] to nuclear diplomacy."
Arman-e Emrooz
“Seven-day negotiations have been extended for seven months.”

Siasate-e Rooz
            A front page editorial stated, "Americans, despite announcing in their media that they want a deal, do not believe in reaching a nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran and have never taken any steps to achieve this result."
            Nov. 25, 2014 via Al-Arabiya


Vienna Nuke Talks: Diplomacy in Pictures

             After a week of intensive discussions, the world’s six major powers and Iran agreed to extend talks for seven months. The new goal is to reach a political agreement within four months and a final deal by June 30 that would curb Tehran's controversial nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
             Top officials from the seven countries — (from left to right) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walkter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi — posed for a group photo before heading into their last meeting on November 24.

             Negotiators met for bilateral, trilateral and group talks in Vienna from November 18 to November 24. As the ministers and deputies proposed new ideas, their staff worked late to see if the proposals would be technically feasible.

            The parties were so focused that Foreign Minister Zarif did not even leave the negotiation room to pray in one instance, captured in the following picture.
            Two days before the deadline, Kerry updated some U.S. allies on the status of talks. He spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.

            Back in Iran, pictures of Foreign Minister Zarif conferring with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi made the front pages.  

            Kerry tweeted a picture of the last meeting of foreign ministers before the extension was announced.

           A few hours later, Kerry addressed the press. “We would be fools to walk away [from negotiations],” he warned. “In these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface.” Kerry said the new goal is to finish a political agreement within four months.
           Ashton and Zarif later read a joint statement saying the extension to June 30 will allow negotiators to “build on the current momentum" and reach an agreement in the "shortest possible time.”
           Iran’s negotiating team (below) includes Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi (left), Foreign Minister Zarif (center) and Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi (right). All three speak English fluently. Ravanchi and Zarif both studied in the United States. They face the daunting challenge of convincing hardliners back home that the extension will benefit Iran in the end.  
           Amidst the talks, Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. State Department Marie Harf took a moment to tweet a picture of a treat delivered by the hotel hosting the talks.
Tags: Offbeat

Vienna Nuke Talks: Iran, P5+1 on Extension

            On November 24, Iran and the world's six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States - agreed to extend discussions on Iran's nuclear program by seven months. Leaders on both sides commended each other's efforts to close gaps on key issues. They were optimistic that the extension could yield a final comprehensive deal. “We would be fools to walk away,” Secretary State John Kerry warned in remarks to the press. "All parties agreed we would maintain momentum, that the negotiations will go on," said British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. In an interview with state television, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, "I am certain that we will reach the final accord, if not today, then tomorrow." The following are excerpted remarks from officials on the decision to extend the talks.

United States
Secretary of State John Kerry
            "President Obama has been just as clear that the best way to do this is through diplomacy, through a comprehensive and durable agreement that all parties can agree to, that all parties are committed to upholding, and whose implementation is not based on trust but on intensive verification.  And that is not just because diplomacy is the preferred course; it is also the most effective course.
            "Diplomacy is also difficult.  These talks are [not] going to suddenly get easier just because we extend them.  They’re tough and they’ve been tough and they’re going to stay tough.  If it were easier, if views on both sides weren’t as deeply held as they are, then we’d have reached a final agreement months or even years ago.  But in these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface.  And that is why we are jointly – the P5+1, six nations and Iran – extending these talks for seven months with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months and with the understanding that we will go to work immediately, meet again very shortly.  And if we can do it sooner, we want to do it sooner.
            "At the end of four months, we have not agreed on the major – if we have not agreed on the major elements by that point in time and there is no clear path, we can revisit how we then want to choose to proceed.
            "Now we believe a comprehensive deal that addresses the world’s concerns is possible.  It is desirable.  And at this point, we have developed a clearer understanding of what that kind of deal could look like, but there are still some significant points of disagreement, and they have to be worked through.
            "Now I want to underscore that even as the negotiations continue towards a comprehensive deal, the world is safer than it was just one year ago.  It is safer than we were before we agreed on the Joint Plan of Action, which was the interim agreement.
            "One year ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium, and ever shorter breakout time.  Today, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back for the first time in a decade.
            "So our experts will meet again very soon.  In fact, we will have a meeting in December as soon as possible in order to continue this work and to drive this process as hard as we can.  And as the parties continue to negotiate, all of the current restraints on the nuclear program in Iran will remain in place."

            Nov. 24, 2014 in a press briefing

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei
            “[Iranian negotiators] have been firm, have not caved in and are seriously trying hard.”
            “If the negotiations do not yield results, it is America that will be the loser, as they need these talks to solve their domestic problems.”
            Nov. 27, 2014 according to the press


President Hassan Rouhani

            “Negotiations will lead to a deal, sooner or later.”
            "I am certain that we will reach the final accord, if not today, then tomorrow."
            “We have neither compromised over Iran’s nuclear rights, nor will ever do so, and there is no doubt that the Iranian nuclear technology will remain functioning.”
            “At present, no one in the world has any doubt that Iran must have nuclear technology, including enrichment on its soil.”
            "I promise the Iranian people that the centrifuges (enrichment machines) will not stop spinning, but ... people's lives must continue to get better day by day.”
            “There is no doubt that sanctions will be lifted. The question is timing.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 in a speech to the Iranian people (via Associated Press, Sky News, The Islamic Republic News Agency, Press TV, Today’s Zaman, and Reuters)

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “I do not believe that anybody any longer questions Iran’s enrichment program. We believe that right of Iran to peaceful nuclear energy, including uranium enrichment, is enshrined in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), which does not require anybody’s recognition. The right is there. What is important is for Iran to be able to implement that right, to exercise that right without the threat of sanctions and pressure which are, in our view, illegal.” 
            “We have always said that Iran has no strategic interest in nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons don’t serve our strategic interests. Nuclear weapons are against every principle of our faith and our beliefs.”
            “We seek to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
            “The sanctions are not only misguided… but are totally ineffective. Sanctions do not resolve the problem.”
            “Only, and I stress, only a negotiated resolution” can solve the dispute.
            “We believe that a negotiated resolution is within reach.”
            “My delegation has shown extreme flexibility and reasonableness. It’s not that our hands are tied. Of course all of us have national security considerations, have considerations about our rights, our dignity, our respect, which is not for negotiation.”
            “We consider it in our interest to defuse and to defeat all these Iranophobic attempts to securitize the Iranian peaceful nuclear program."
            Nov. 24, 2014 to the press in Vienna (via Press TV and BuzzFeed)
Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi
            “The issue of enrichment and its limits, extent and capacity, as well as the mechanisms needed for the removal of sanctions are two key issues.”
            “In addition, there are also several other issues that might not be among the key issues, but are sufficiently important and if they are not resolved, we will not reach any agreement.”
            "The result of the negotiations will be something which would meet our redlines and safeguard whatever we have, enrichment will continue and certainly all sanctions will be annulled in the form and sequence (that they have been imposed).”
            Nov. 25, 2014 in an interview with state-run TV
            “In the past months $7 billion of Iran’s frozen assets was released and within the coming months, the figure will be about $5 billion.”
            “Our nuclear scientists in the negotiating team very well presented scientific solutions to address these concerns and were able to convince the other side that the solution works.”
            “We are in a direction where we hope to get results in any case and on the lifting of the sanctions, solutions are also provided and we are working on them."
            Nov. 25, 2014 according to the press

Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari
            "It became evident that the US is not trustworthy.”
            "Today we can resolutely say that our people have found out that standing up and resistance against the enemies are the secret of our success.”
            "Resistance was once just seen in Iran, but it has now spread to the Mediterranean coasts and close to the Zionists (Israel) … and they are afraid of this issue, but they cannot do anything."
            Nov. 26, 2014 in address to Baiji forces in Kerman
Basij Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi
            "Our minimum right is that we can produce fuel for our nuclear power plants and no one is allowed to withdraw from this position."
            "The sanctions should be removed, otherwise there would remain no reason for negotiation."
            Dec. 1, 2014 according to the press
United Kingdom
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
            "We have had to conclude it is not possible to get to an agreement by the deadline that was set for today and therefore we will extend the JPOA to June 30, 2015.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 according to the press
            We can’t afford to stop now...All parties agreed we would maintain momentum, that the negotiations will go on. There will be further meetings in December and our clear target is to reach a headline agreement, an agreement on substance in the next three months or so.”
            “I think we are beginning to understand each other and each other’s positions and the challenges that we all face. Everyone is going to have to show some flexibility to get an agreement”
            Nov. 24, 2014 according to the press

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
            “We are negotiating here with the ambition to reach an agreement.”
            "If this task should not be completed, one definitely would need to look at opportunities so that the road does not end here, but that the negotiating process can be continued.”
            Nov. 23, 2014 according to the press
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
            "We have a final deadline of tomorrow night to find an agreement, but it has to be positive and enables us to work for peace. There are still differences to resolve."
            Nov. 23, 2014 according to the press
            “On the question of limiting [Iran’s] enriching capacity—very complicated discussions—I found there had been a certain movement.”
            “Talks accelerated in the last period...There is a will to find an agreement I hadn’t felt in the past.”
            Nov. 25, 2014 according to the press
President Vladimir Putin
            “It matters that the negotiations lead to Iran’s achievement of its rights, especially in the area of enrichment, and enrichment on its own soil is Iran’s right.”
            “[Iran and the P5+1] lacked only time for reaching a comprehensive agreement.”
            Nov. 24, 2014 according to the press

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