Iranian Background Briefing on Nuclear Talks

July 7, 2015
On July 6, an Iranian official told the press in Vienna that Iran and the world’s six major powers have made “good progress on almost all the issues,” but that gaps remained. The negotiator said that Iran would prefer to finalize a deal as soon as possible, but also noted that the deadlines are artificial. “We cannot sacrifice a good deal at the expense of meeting a deadline,” the official emphasized. The June 30 deadline for a final agreement was extended to July 7 and then to July 10.
The official also reiterated Tehran's opposition to including the current U.N. arms embargo on Iran in the final deal. “There is no evidence whatsoever that the arms embargo has any relation to the nuclear issue,” the official claimed. But U.S. officials have reportedly stipulated that a new U.N. Security Council resolution, as part of a deal, would need to maintain elements of the embargo.  
The following is a transcript of the press briefing.
Iranian official: Just to update you about the talks that we have been having since our last briefing here, I can tell you that the talks continue to be serious, intense, business-like, and everybody is prepared to be as serious as possible and we hope that, this endeavor on the part of everybody will bear fruit. The atmosphere of the talks is good, and we—everybody is interested to have a deal, but at the end of the day whether we will reach an agreement or not, that is what we have to wait and see. I’ll stop here, because I do not want to take much time, because I prefer to hear your questions, and then I’ll try to answer as much as I can. Please. 
Question: What do you think the chances are of reaching the Tuesday night deadline?
Iranian official: First of all, as I explained the other day, we do not see any definite deadline as to our work here. We know that there are certain considerations, by the US administration, but that does not mean that everybody has agreed that there is a deadline, as we used to have June 30thdeadline that all of us knew beforehand that that would be a deadline, but July 7th, July 8th, we do not consider these dates as those dates that we have finish our job. Even with the understanding of the US position on this so to speak deadline, even if we pass July 9th, there will not be the end of the world, there will be another period which all of us can continue to work. That said, we do not mean that we will not be serious in the course of the next few days—we will do whatever we can in order to reach a deal—but I have to emphasize here that we need to have a good agreement. If we can get it done by July 7th, July 8th—before July 9th, so much the better, but we cannot sacrifice a good deal at the expense of meeting a deadline. And in our opinion, that is an artificial deadline, but anyway, we are serious as I explained earlier, and we want to work whatever it takes in terms of putting energy, in terms of putting time. We work from early morning till late at night. So we are doing, all of us, not only Iran but the other partners are doing their best, but let’s see, let’s see. We cannot say exactly what will happen in the course of the next few days. 
Question: Can you give us an update, of how the sanctions will be [inaudible]?
Iranian official: The state of play on that issue is more or less the same; we have not spent much time on this issue in the course of the last few days, since our last briefing here. But as I said the other day, it is our understanding that the scheme that I tried to sketch the other day stays in place, and all sides agree that whenever Iran starts to do its obligations, at the same time the Americans and the Europeans should commit themselves to terminate the sanctions at a later date, at which time Iran will complete its obligations. So at that date—on the second date, if I can say so—there would not be any need for another legal action by America, or by the European Union. So this question of simultaneity, we believe is more or less agreed by all sides, but we have to finalize a few things that need to be done before I can tell you that we all agreed on that. 
Question: Thank you very much, thank you for doing this briefing. Secretary Kerry said yesterday there are hard choices to be made, and if those hard choices are not made he was prepared to walk away, the question was that Iran needs to make these hard choices. Can you respond to that… if there’s been pressure on Iran by the secretary?
Iranian official: No we do not feel we do not consider ourselves under any sort of pressure—because we have been clear throughout the negotiations that we want to have a deal, but not at any cost. This has been our position from the beginning, that we are serious, we are interested to work hard, we are prepared to even take the extra mile, but that does not mean that we are desperate for a deal. We want to get a job done, but not at any cost. And we believe that it is doable. We think that if there are not extra demands, if our counterparts are prepared to choose cooperation and agreement in contrast to coercion, we believe that we can get the job done in the matter of the next few days. But I suppose the choice is theirs. They have to make the difficult decision. Iran—what can I say—let me put it this way: we need to have an agreement, which marks a shift, a fundamental shift in the approach of the Security Council towards Iran. Are our partners prepared to afford that, that remains to be seen. This is, this is an issue which is of paramount importance for us, that the end of negotiations, here, should mark a fundamental shift in the approach of the Security Council. So this is an issue which we put very much emphasize on, and we believe that the decision has to be made whether they want to choose cooperation and agreement, or they want to continue with the policy of coercion. 
Question: Can you expand on that what you expect the Security Council to do?
Iranian official: I’m sure that you have heard about our position with regard to the Security Council’s treatment of the Iranian nuclear issue. In our opinion, I don’t want to go into the history, because it takes time, I don’t want to be engaged in the legal argument, whether the Security Council is, based on international law, has done a good job, or a bad job. In our opinion, the treatment of Iran by the Security Council has been terrible, to put it mildly. We believe that the Iranian file should not have been sent to the Security Council in the first place. That file should have been taken care of here in Vienna by the Agency, not to be sent to the Security Council. But for political reasons the file was sent to New York and the Security Council adopted a number of resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran which we consider as illegal and unjust. So this is the atmosphere for the time being at the Security Council, that a number of resolutions have been adopted, hostile to Iran, imposing sanctions on Iran which were not warranted, which as far as Iran is concerned were illegal. So, if we want to have a comprehensive solution to the nuclear issue here in Vienna, there should be a shift. There cannot be a resolution of the nuclear issue and at the same time those sanctions continue to exist. So that is what I mean by a fundamental shift. And this is a hard decision. We understand that this is a hard decision but they have to make it if they want to get the job done. If they want to open a new page in relations with Iran, they have to make this hard choice. But we believe it can be done because we want to close this file. We want to close the nuclear issue and open a new page in the relationship between Iran and the Security Council and that is what we mean by the fundamental shift. 
Question: Your feedback on how Mr. Amano’s trip went on the weekend…and the issue of PMD (possible military dimensions) and the end of the year… is Iran satisfied?
Iranian Official: I suppose I explained the other time that we had had ups and downs in our relations with IAEA and many people are critical of the way that the agency treated Iran in the past. We have been trying over the course of last ten years to work closely with the IAEA to address the problems, to try to find solutions to the problems. But at times we have seen that the agency has produced reports which have not been impartial and that has created a sort of problem in Iran and a sort of anxiety in Iran as to what is the state of play in relations between Iran and the agency. With the new atmosphere after the signing of the Geneva interim agreement and the cooperation Iran extended with the agency we have come to this understanding that the agency has shown a good approach toward the issue; we have been cooperating with each other on the implementation of the interim agreement and as you know Iran’s record on the implementation of the JPOA has been very good based on the reports of the agency. So in order to prepare ourselves for the implementation of the JCPOA, if we reach an agreement, we need to work closely with the agency. In the course of Mr. Amano’s visit to Iran besides talking to our foreign minister here we thought that if would be good for Mr. Amano to have the chance to talk to the president and to the secretary of the supreme national security council, so that everything is going to be prepared for the implementation of the JCPOA. And another aspect is the past and present issues that we still have some jobs to be done and that is also another aspect of our work that we believe can be concluded in the course of next few months before the implementation of the final agreement comes into effect. 
Question: Let me take you back to… United Nation Security Council issues. One aspect is the problem of arms embargo, conventional arms, to Iran. Many Americans and Europeans don’t consider this to be a nuclear related sanction and that it’s outside the realm of the nuclear deal. When you say that we must turn a new page with the [U.N.] Security Council, would it be in your vision this would also require lifting the arms embargo?
Iranian Official: First of all when you say that Americans and Europeans feel that this issue does not belong to the nuclear file so the natural question is what has been the reason for the inclusion of arms embargo in the resolution in the first place? So this is a question that should be posed to our European and American partners that what was the reason that you put this issue in the agenda of the Security Council? What is anything beside the political contingency, was it different from your political considerations to add such an idea which is extraneous to the nuclear file?
But to respond to your question, this is one of the important issues we are discussing and I cannot share with you at this juncture what is the situation on that front but the negotiations continue and we know that this is one of the challenges that we have to face. So as far as Iran is concerned, we believed that in the joint comprehensive plan of action there should not be any place for the arms embargo for the same reason that I explained earlier. This has nothing to do with the nuclear issue. There is no evidence whatsoever that the arms embargo has any relation to the nuclear issue so that is the natural consequence of the way that Iran believes the outcome of the negotiations should be: without any inclusion of the arms embargo for Iran. 
Our position is that arms embargo should not be part of the JCPOA. This is our position. 
Question: It has been described to us in recent days that progress has been slowing down and the issue of research and development being one of the reasons why progress has been slowed down. Was this file closed in view of Iran back in the April agreement, or is this an area that Iran sees as a roadblock to progress?
Iranian Official: No, that is not how I characterize it. R&D is one of the subjects of our discussions since the beginning of the negotiations. There has been not been any change as far as Iran is concerned in our position with regard to R&D since Lausanne, so we continue to believe that the Lausanne framework for R&D continues to be valid. So we don’t consider the R&D issue as a stumbling block in the way of progress in the negotiations, but as it is true in the case of many issues that we are dealing with, there are still issues that need to be resolved in R&D as well as in a number of issues related to the nuclear side or to the sanctions side. 
What I can tell you is that we have made good progress on almost all the issues. When we started this round of negotiations—I don’t know how long we have been here, probably 15-16 days—in comparison to where we started 15-16 days ago, we have moved a lot further. And there are still issues that are still there, which remained to be resolved. Probably those issues need to be resolved at the ministerial level. You know we started the work at the expert level; many issues resolved at the expert level. Then those issues were transferred to deputy minister level and we resolved some of those, but there are still some issues that remain to be resolved by the ministers and they are tough issues. I cannot deny the fact that those issues which were not resolved at expert level or at the deputy minister level; those are not easy issues. But as I said hard decisions have to [be] made at the end of the day and it is for the ministers to talk about that. One other thing that I need to emphasize here is that you referred to year 11. We do not consider that to be valid. So that is something that we have been clear—that I don’t want to be involved in the talks here as to what the duration will be, but since you raised this issue of eleven years I needed to make it clear that it is not the case. 
Question: How forceful, or neutral, or noncommittal are Russia and China at the negotiating table? Are they pushing for a fundamental shift at the UN Security Council? Are they passive? … Give me a sense of how they are behaving at the working language level at the negotiating table.
Iranian Official: You know it is no secret that we have good relations with both China and Russia in comparison to our relations with the other four countries, but that does not mean that we have been trying to make a division within the P5+1. We want to work with all these six countries, our partners in six countries. And on some issues we can deal easier with China and Russia than with the other four, but that does not mean that we have identical positions on all issues, even with China and Russia. They are sovereign countries. They have their priorities. They are permanent members of the Security Council. We try to work things out with all these countries, including with China and Russia, and we know that we have to work with all of them, otherwise there will not be a resolution of the issue. We cannot pick and choose our partners. The six countries are there, we need to work with all of them. With some we have better relations bilaterally, but we are working within an international setting. We have seen seriousness on the part of all countries, including China and Russia, and we believe the resolution of this file will be beneficial for Iran, the region, the international community including Russia and China.
Question: The scenario you have… about where you are in the negotiations now, is roughly similar to what which Miss Mogherini said when she arrived, which is basically that is not a question of time, but a question of will. That is the level of ministers. Some last tough decisions need to be made. At this hour are there still do you feel that there are some red lines for Iran that are still very far away from the red lines of the P5+1, in particular the United States?
Iranian official: You know every country has its own red lines. Naturally we will agree to a deal if all of our red lines, not only a number, all of them are respected. So that may be the case for other partners, for other countries. So the art of diplomacy is how we can get these red lines closer to each other so that they will be close or there will be overlap between these red lines by Iran and others. What I can say is that on some issues the red lines are pretty close and some issues there are still problems that need to be tackled, but at the end of the day we believe that if there is a political will, it is not insurmountable. We can do it.
Question: In the interest of a deal can some red lines become pink or disappear altogether?
Iranian official: As far as Iran is concerned we have certain red lines, which have been known to our colleagues. And we have a rationale for all these red lines. And we think that with the existing red lines we have, we can still get the job done. 
Question: If there is no deal tomorrow or Wednesday, what could be the scenario? Did you start to talk about an extension, going back to the capitals and come back later, in a few weeks?
Iranian official: To give you a short answer: we haven’t discussed this. But putting the joke aside, we haven’t talked about this issue because we don’t want to distract ourselves, our attention, from the real job. And the real job is to get the job done and to concentrate on the main work and try to resolve the issues. So if we cannot get it done in a matter of next few days, so we will have ample time to sit together to see what would be the next step. But for the time being, as I said, we do not even think about a possible extension, because extension to be honest is in nobody’s interest. Even in our opinion, from our perspective, if we need to stay some more days in Vienna, it is much better to spend more time here than to go home and then come back to start anew. So for the time being we are concentrating on the main job. 
Question: Can you give us any insight into areas where the European Union, the P5+1, especially the Americans, have shown some flexibility and been willing to meet you somewhere in the middle? Where have the Americans moved closer to European point in your opinion?
Iranian official: I suppose you respect the fact that I cannot share with you the topics where either Iran, or the U.S., or Russia, or the others have shown flexibility. This is a negotiation: it is a process of give and take. If you are so rigid, you cannot get it done. As far as we are concerned, we have made a number of good concessions. We have shown a good amount of flexibility. And I suppose everybody has done so, because otherwise they should not be at the negotiations. Therefore all sides have been cooperating, all sides have been working hard and that includes Iran and the United States.
Question: It is a question of clarification. You began to emphasis the importance of the UN resolution that follows a deal here. Is there a discussion here of a draft text or the exact language that will be in that resolution? Is there a text out there that you are working on a resolution as well as on a deal?
Iranian official: Yes, we have been working on a text. We have been working on a text of the resolution, although it is not finalized yet. There are still a number of issues. If you heard me saying that we need to see a shift, so that shows by itself that the negotiations continue on that text as well. But the Security Council has its own procedures. There are five permanent members here. There are ten members in New York. The matter has to be sent to New York and has to be adopted by all members of the Security Council. But we believe that we need to have an agreement on the text of the resolution before we conclude a deal here. That is a must for us and I suppose for all members, all participants in the talks here.
Question: When you say that your negotiating partners haven’t made the necessary adjustments regarding the U.N., the approach of the U.N., are you also referring in part to the discussion about the snapback of sanctions?
Iranian official: Snap back is also one of the issues that we have been discussing. The matter has not been closed yet. There are still some issues to be resolved on that front as well. But for the time being I think I should not go into the details of the talks dealing with the snap back issue, but what I can tell you is that the snapback is not something only for one side. All sides have to be treated equally when it comes to snapback. So it is not as if only the sanctions will snapback. If there are issues that we have, for instance with regards to sanctions termination, so the same procedure has to be applied to that issue as well. So to put it broadly, I can tell you that snapback is something that needs to be provided to all sides, not only one side.
Question: Can you tell us more about the actual mechanics of where you are now at the table? Because on one hand we understand that there is a text that is quite far advanced, but with bracketed language, and the opportunity to filling in those brackets, but on the other side you are also describing to us today some quite substantial decisions that need to be made, that we could have really been talking about three months ago perhaps. So mechanically how is it working, where are we in this process?
Iranian official: You know three months ago, there were quite a number of issues still unresolved. There were many issues related to the nuclear side of the deal, there were a number of issues unresolved to the sanctions termination, but now it is not the case. There are only a few items left, which need to be tackled by the ministers. And that is why the ministers are here.  All of them are here today and I suppose most of them will be here tomorrow. So we are going to have very serious discussions with the ministers. So these issues are left for the ministers to tackle and we hope that we can have resolutions of these tough issues by the end of the discussions here. If there is a need for the ministers to go and come back, that is a possibility, we haven’t discussed that, but we have a very tight schedule today and tomorrow and from that point we will see what to do next.