One day after U.S. officials announced a weeklong extension of the deadline for reaching a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian foreign minister on Wednesday noted rather cryptically that his nation wasn’t working on any deadline.
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s remark during a minute-long break in the talks appeared to be a reference to the fact that the new July 7 deadline served U.S. political needs, particularly the Obama administration’s desire to get the deal to Congress by July 9, a date Congress set for a 30-day review of any accord. If the deal comes in after that, Congress can take 60 days.
Given the resistance of many, particularly Republicans, in Congress to any deal with Iran, the additional 30 days of review is seen as decreasing the likelihood of getting congressional approval.
“We did not set any deadline,” Zarif responded to a question about whether a deal would be done by the new deadline. “We will continue and we will make progress. We have made progress and we will make progress and we will use every opportunity to make progress.”
There were signs that others were taking the deadline seriously. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced that its head traveled from Vienna to Tehran to “accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues.”
The IAEA statement noted that Director General Yukiya Amano would meet “with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other senior Iranian officials on Thursday.”
Zarif noted: “We invited Mr. Amano to go to Iran to work with our officials on how to proceed.”
The IAEA statement said: “Discussions are expected to address ongoing cooperation between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic of Iran under the Framework for Cooperation, and how to accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, including clarification of possible military dimensions.”
A sticking point in negotiations has been whether or not Iran would allow nuclear inspections on military sites, and whether Western nations would accept a deal that did not allow that.
After a meeting that lasted just over 75 minutes, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at a news conference on the cobbled streets outside the luxury hotel hosting the negotiations. While his topic was U.S.-Cuba relations, he did briefly address the nuclear talks when asked.
“We are working very hard,” he said. “We believe we are making progress.”
The United States and the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom) and Germany are taking part in the negotiations, generally known as the P5+1 talks, though in Europe it’s referred to as the E3+3 talks.
And Kerry did appear to address the time element as well, though briefly, as he was preparing to walk away from the podium.
“We have our own sense of deadline,” he said.
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews