The world’s six major powers and Iran began drafting a final nuclear deal during a four-day round of talks that ended on June 20. “We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round,” said Michael Man, a spokesperson for E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that he was still hopeful about reaching an agreement by the July 20 deadline. But he warned that “major disputes remain” and that the other side should abandon its “excessive demands.” Iran and the P5+1 countries —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — plan to meet for two weeks starting on July 2. The following are excerpted remarks on the June talks held in Vienna, Austria.
Senior U.S. Official in a Background Briefing
QUESTION: It’s been said by diplomats from different sides that there still remains crucial differences in the talks. And do you think that’s why those brackets, as said by Iranian foreign minister, that are more than what’s in the text of the agreement, can you reach the deal by July 20th? And has there been any discussion on extending the deadline or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will honestly say to you that we have not had considerations of extension. We are all focused on reaching July 20th. As I’ve said before, if we get close and we need a few more days, I don’t think anyone will mind. But we are very focused on getting it done now. We have all agreed that time is not in anyone’s interest; it won’t help get there. And if indeed by the time we get to July 20th we are still very far apart, then I think we will all have to evaluate what that means and what is possible or not.
QUESTION: Have you seen any greater realism from Iran this week on the key issues? And secondly, you said earlier you’re not sure yet whether Iran is ready to take the steps you think it needs to take. Well, what is it that – I’m curious of why. What is it that you’re not sure that they’re ready to do? What are you seeing that makes you say that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are very, very difficult decisions to be taken here by Iran. If they weren’t, we would have resolved this issue a very long time ago. It is also been expected, as in most negotiations, that the very hardest things are not decided until the very end of the negotiation. That probably is true when you sit down with your partner at dinner to decide what restaurant you’re going to go to. Everybody has their favorite, and then you finally get down to what your daughter wants, and that’s where you go.
So it’s probably a bad metaphor, so you should probably drop that. But nonetheless, everyone understands these – this is very difficult. And when I say I’m not sure whether they can get there, I go back to what you’ve heard from me before, which is this is a Rubik’s cube. All the pieces have to fit together. You could – I don’t know how many squares there are on a Rubik’s cube; maybe somebody here knows. But you could get to 98 percent of them and the last 2 percent won’t slide into place, and you don’t have an agreement. Because all of these pieces have to fit together to reach the two objectives that I’ve outlined, and that is to ensure they don’t have a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.
QUESTION: The Iranian delegation invoked the 2005 – the March 2005 agreement in which they offered 3000 – to cap their program at 3000 centrifuges in 2005 and hold off on industrial capacity until trust was built. That option was obviously rejected in 2005. And though sanctions have imposed harsh penalties on Iran, it hasn’t stopped them from expanding to 19,000 installed centrifuges today, advancing beyond 20 percent (inaudible).
The implication of that example – obviously, Iran is – Iranians are very historically conscious. But to what extent does that example resonate with the P5+1 side and give incentive to prevent a repeat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everyone who is in the room is certainly aware of the long and difficult history of negotiations to resolve this problem. But we are at a different time, a different place in history. And we have to see what we can do to go forward, not go backwards. And history may be instructive up to a point, but as I said, the context is different, the circumstances are different, the program is different. The concerns are probably even more profound than they were in 2005.
QUESTION: You said there are still many serious gaps remain. Are these gaps – could these gaps be solved at your level, or you should call in the ministers to bridge these gaps and to reach the final deal? And when could it be happened?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that everyone would be right to expect that at the appropriate time that ministers may become engaged. And quite frankly, ministers are already engaged. Anyone who knows Secretary Kerry knows that he is engaged, not only in terms of being briefed, but also giving me instructions about how to proceed, talking with his counterparts – he talks with Minister Lavrov and the other ministers in the P5+1. He will be seeing the High Representative in Brussels this week when he is in Europe, most likely.
And so I think all of the ministers are already quite engaged. Virtually every minister over the course of this negotiation has had direct conversations with Minister Zarif, some more often than others, depending upon the relationship. Messages have gone back and forth urging action and focus and problem solving. So ministers are already quite engaged in this process. When and if they show up physically in Vienna, I’m sure they may well. And that will be at the point where we perhaps have reached the narrowing of the gaps to the place where very tough political decisions need to be made and need to be made at the level of a minister.
And indeed, I would fully suspect that President Obama, who is completely briefed on this subject and follows it very carefully, and also through our interagency process issues guidance for how I should proceed, will also be engaged, and has already in the G7 meeting that we just had, talked with his counterparts about this negotiation. I’m sure will talk with his counterparts as appropriate to try to bring this to closure, if we can get there.
Minister Zarif has mentioned about each country is a little bit being different in claiming what they would like to see in the – on the paper. And you also mentioned about each country having different national positions. When that is expressed in the meeting room, would that not cause – you said that the – on one hand you said that the P5+1 is united on the numbers and so on, but if each country started to express different views, then would that not be confusing? And how would that be resolved at the end? That’s the question number one.
And then number two is that Iran mentioned that the – that Iran is not – or its centrifuge do not really focus on the numbers but rather on the capacity. Is that the approach that everybody has agreed to take? Or is this what they want to convince the P5+1 to follow? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. We haven’t started to show that we have national positions. National positions are a fact in any multilateral negotiation. In the UN Security Council, everybody has a national position, and they aren’t identical. And what you try to do is where you can, if accommodating those national positions helps you reach the objective, you do. If they don’t, you try to find another route forward. So this is not an abnormal process, this is a very normal process.
So nothing is new here, and what we have tried to do in the proposal that we have put forth to Iran and that now we have a working document that we can use where we understand Iran’s positions, our positions, and now we’re working to see if we can, in fact, reach an agreement. We have tried to take into account in our coordination with each other each other’s national interests. But the national interest that overtakes all other national interests for every one of the countries sitting at the table is to make sure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is entirely and exclusively peaceful. And because that is the paramount interest for every country sitting at the table, we have been able to maintain that unity.
QUESTION: Are you at a negotiating disadvantage since it’s more difficult for you to miss the July 20th deadline, because that would necessitate going back and asking Congress to sign on to more time, given that they’re so skeptical about a deal?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There’s no question Congress has been an important partner in Iran’s coming to the negotiating table. We consult with the Congress very, very frequently. I, in fact, will spend a good part of next week up on Capitol Hill in very close consultations with both the Senate and the House. We have to proceed forward together, and we all share the same objective, and that is one of the issues on which there is agreement across parties as well.
It is true that in the Joint Plan of Action there is no automatic extension. The language says that there can be one six-month extension if mutually agreed. There will be many issues involved if, in fact, that moment came. That moment is a hypothetical, and it is not something that we are contemplating at the moment at all.
QUESTION: Several of the countries went to go see Director General Amano of the IAEA. Can you tell us a little bit about how his program to go look at possible military dimensions fits in or doesn’t fit in to what a final agreement would look like, and how you deal with the fact that that process is probably going to be going on well beyond the time that you envision for an agreement if you can get one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The American delegation visited with the director general as well and sort of joked with him that he may rue the day that these talks take place in Vienna, because we all descend on him to have conversations.
Clearly, the IAEA is a crucial part of this agreement. They have been crucial to the monitoring verification of the Joint Plan of Action, and although I don’t think the report is coming out but is still restricted, I would expect that the report that’s just come out about the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action to continue to say that Iran and the E3+3 have all complied, continued to comply with the Joint Plan of Action. The IAEA had to increase its budget, and very glad that everybody came forth to put up the funds so that they could do the monitoring and verification for the Joint Plan of Action. And clearly, they will be the key agency for the monitoring and verification of a comprehensive joint plan of action.
We have said from the beginning that addressing possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program is part of any comprehensive agreement. We understand that the timetables aren’t identical, but the timetables of much of what will be in the agreement won’t be done by July 20th. Whatever Iran agrees to do is going to take them longer than July 20th to do. So it is how that issue will be addressed in the agreement, and what will be necessary by July 20th that is under discussion.
I want to say one other thing, which is we are all – and I think a message delivered by everyone who has visited with the director general this week is that we want to be very cognizant that the IAEA is an independent agency with its own mandate and authorities, and although several of us are members of the board of governors of the IAEA, nonetheless we all need to be conscious of its independent role.
June 20, 2014 in a background briefing
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
“Still we have not overcome disputes about major issues ... there has been progress, but major disputes remain.
“We feel there are [still] maximalist stances. Iran will not give up the interests and the rights of the Iranian nation in the face of excessive demands.
“The talks were intensive and still continue. The discussions started this morning with my meeting with Mrs. Ashton and now Mr. Araghchi and Ravanchi and the rest of our team are working on the introduction of the text (of the final deal) with Ashton's deputy.
“The introduction deals with the goals, frameworks and mechanisms and the way differences can be resolved. We can't say that we have a common text as in many items there are different views over the content and the way the agreement should be written.
“The opposite side has not attended the talks with the needed preparedness to enter serious negotiations on the basis of the realities.
“We will continue the negotiations as long as they are useful and needed and until achievement of the results.
“Position-taking would not lead to an agreement, we have come here to attain a solution. I am still hopeful about (attaining a) solution because I believe the issue is not complex.
June 20, 2014 to the press
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to reach a solution and has offered logical proposals in this regard but the excessive demands by the other side could thwart the deal and in that case the world would come to know [who made] the negotiations reach an impasse.”
June 26, 2014, according to press
“One of the issues in the comprehensive nuclear accord with the G5+1 is sign up Additional Protocol, but we have not reached that stage in negotiations yet.”
June 27, 2014 according to press
“Iran is ready for a resolution and made rational proposals.
“But the excessive demands of the other party could prevent an agreement.
“At that time the world will know who was responsible for the deadlock in the nuclear negotiations.
“We feel there are still maximalist stances on the other side, which I think should be dropped.”
June 27, 2014 according to press
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
“We have announced that we have entered the talks with seriousness and political will, and no change has occurred in Iran’s intention and willpower regarding acquisition of peaceful nuclear technology.
“We are bracing for professional and tough talks and we hope that an agreement would be reached with the opposite party [showing] realism. Regardless of any conclusion we would reach in the nuclear talks, our national program will follow its normal course.”
June 25, 2014 to the press
Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi
“If the sanctions are removed, animosities will end and all issues pertaining to [Iran’s] nuclear dossier are resolved….we will be ready to sign the Additional Protocol; however, the parliament will be the final decision-maker in this regard.”
June 2014 according to press
E.U. Spokesperson Michael Mann
“We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round in Vienna, beginning on 2 July.
“We presented each other with a number of ideas on a range of issues, and we have begun the drafting process.
“E3/EU+3 Political Directors will meet in Brussels next Thursday to continue discussions.”
June 20, 2014 in a statement
“The High Representative is focused on trying to get a deal as soon as possible. The most important thing is that it is a good and robust deal.”
June 25, 2014, during an interview with Nasim Online news agency
Russian UN Envoy Vitaly Churkin
“This is an issue [Iran’s ballistic missile program] that is outside their mandate. The [experts] should not interfere in this extremely sensitive process. And in particular it is unacceptable to pre-judge its outcome.”
June 26, 2014, according to press
“For our part, we will continue to do everything we can for the final closure of the complex issues related to Iran's nuclear program, with Tehran and removal of sanctions.”
June 26, 2014, according to press
Senior Chinese Official Wang Qun
“The fact that (we came up) with this text is progress ... in procedural terms.”
June 20, 2014 to the press
Photo credit: European External Action Service via Flickr