As the deadline for an agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear programs approaches, negotiations appear to have ground to a halt. Now the diplomats involved are starting to discuss a further extension of the deadline, the Wall Street Journal reports:
“If by whatever reason, by whatever development, we’re not there, I think we will have time in the evening of the 23rd to develop an alternative, to develop a solution, that would not kill the chances,” Russia’s lead negotiator at the talks, Sergei Ryabkov, told reporters. “But that would be the worst possible outcome.” […]“We are not still in the position to say we made progress,” [Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas] Araghchi told Iranian state media in Muscat. “We are hopeful we will make it, though it will be very difficult.” […]U.S. officials have said privately in recent days that an extension may be sought. But publicly, top aides to President Barack Obama said that Nov. 24 was still the focus of their diplomacy, which will move to Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 18 for a week of talks up to the deadline.
As the article notes, the negotiations so far have failed to reach any consensus about the fundamental questions of a nuclear deal: how to restrict Iran’s nuclear capacity and how to alter the sanctions against Iran accordingly. Nor have external pressures on the Administration lapsed—Israeli PM Netanyahu is as concerned as ever about the prospects of a deal that could keep Tehran tantalizingly close to the bomb, while the incoming Republican majority in the Senate looks set to do what it can to disrupt any deal it thinks is too soft on Iran.Meanwhile, Russia’s recent commitment to construct up to eight nuclear reactors in Iran is an interesting side-development. As the WSJ mentions, it is, in part, representative of growing trade ties between Iran and Russia. But as we noted a couple weeks ago, some Administration officials involved in the talks clearly believed that Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran could provide an outlet for a successful deal. The news that Russia is moving ahead with their nuclear cooperation while these talks have stalled only strengthens our first impression: that the Russian solution to the Iranian problem was wishful thinking.