Friday, 18 July 2014

Short extension to Iran nuclear talks proposed as deadline looms

Short extension to nuclear talks proposed as deadline looms

Iran and the P5+1 have been engaged in very intense negotiations since 2 July in a bid to achieve a comprehensive nuclear deal before the 20 July deadline. Though the deadline can be extended by up to six months, all parties involved are interested in finalising the deal soon.

The two sides agree that significant gaps remain, mainly on the issue of enrichment capacity. This translates into the number of centrifuges, production capacity, and stockpiles of enriched uranium. Various formulae could achieve the Western goal of prohibiting the breakout capability of the Iranian programme, defined as the point at which there is a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium to fuel a weapon.

Iran’s latest offer has included a freeze on enrichment to maintain the current capacity of about 9,000 centrifuges instead of reducing that now and allowing it to grow in the future. This suggestion is now being considered in Washington, but insiders there told Menas Associates that 9,000 spinning centrifuges would not offer enough leverage to President Obama to push back congressional pressure against sanctions relief.

It looks very likely that the two sides will agree on an extension of the talks by a few weeks, not by six months. That would allow them to close the gap between their positions, but there is also another important advantage: the US Congress will be on its summer break in August and if the comprehensive agreement is signed in mid-month, there will be no immediate congressional opposition.

Washington and Tehran have achieved their core objectives and are now attempting to make the deal more attractive to their domestic stakeholders. At the same time, each knows that it will be easy for the other to undo the progress made so far and return to the escalatory mode of the past few years.

A deal is thus likely in August and will then be implemented over the next two years, ultimately leading to a working relationship between Tehran and Washington and an improvement of ties between Iran and the European Union.

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

© 2014 Menas Associates

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