TOPICS > World

Is the nuclear deal ‘too big to fail’ for both the U.S. and Iran?

April 1, 2015 at 6:40 PM EDT
No deal was reached over Iran’s nuclear program on Wednesday, but talks seemed to be headed into yet another day, with Iran and the U.S. each indicating it’s up to the other to bridge the gap. Gwen Ifill gets an update on the negotiations from Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News.

GWEN IFILL: The talks between Iran and six world powers were extended today for yet another 24 hours. The deadline for a framework agreement expired last night. And no deal was reached today, but the U.S. said enough progress has been made to continue the negotiations.

Major points of disagreement remain, and both the Americans and Iranians indicated it was up to the other side to bridge that gap.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: We have been very clear — and when I say we, I mean the international community, the United States sitting at that table alongside our German, French, British, Russian and Chinese counterparts — making clear to the Iranians that they need to make some specific commitments, and if they’re unwilling to make those commitments that, then, yes, the international community would be in a position where we would be forced to consider alternatives to the approach that we have demonstrated so far.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Foreign Minister, Iran: As I have said all along, the recognition by all parties that they need to exhibit political will and flexibility in order to move forward. Iran has exhibited that political will. Iran has shown its readiness to engage with dignity. And it’s time for our negotiating partners to seize the moment and use this opportunity, which may not be repeated.

GWEN IFILL: Joining us again for the latest at the talks is Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News.

Indira, you have been watching this day in, day out. When you hear those two statements, one from the White House and one from the Iranian foreign minister talking about flexibility and willpower, translate for us. Where are they tonight?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, Bloomberg: Well, I think you need to examine both of those statements on two levels.

One is the level of reality and what’s actually going on in these very, very difficult negotiations. And we know that they are having — they’re stuck on a couple of issues. And these are particularly research and development for Iran’s nuclear program, as well as relief from United Nations sanctions which are not about economic penalties. They’re about proliferation and military sales.

So that’s a much tougher one for the international community to lift. That’s the reality. On the other side, you have the public messaging. And as you have heard from Josh Earnest and you hear from Mohammad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, each side is working really hard to get their message out. Each side wants to say that the other one is the one who needs to make the compromises and that they’re willing to walk away.

But I think read between the lines. What the White House said was really interesting. They’re remaining at talks because progress is here. Remember, we’re going into double overtime. We’re going into the second overtime day here, and that’s because, if these talks fail, the White House doesn’t want to be blamed for it. They do not want to be seen as the ones who walked away from this. They don’t want that at their doormat.

So, this is a game of brinksmanship. And in the end, I think they’re going to have to come up with something, but each side is holding out for the best deal they can possibly get, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: As we hear these little leaks here and there, it seems like the Iranians are consistently more optimistic than the Americans are. Is that gamesmanship?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: I think it is, because it’s trying to push the Americans, in, again, using the media, to say, look, we’re ready to make a deal, we’re ready to sign on the dotted line, it’s you who needs to back down from your entrenched positions.

And we have seen so much of this, where we had one European delegation telling us that there was an ultimatum last night, which the U.S. and Iran then denied. We had Fabius, the French foreign minister, leaving. He’s just come back. We had the British foreign minister leaving. He has just come back.

There’s a lot of brinksmanship going on. And, as I said, I think part of this is as a signal to the other side, trying to focus attention on what they wanted to be this deadline that would give them three more months to actually work out the technical aspects of an accord.

My own opinion is that, at this point, the Iran talks have become something that is like the banks were in 2008, too big to fail. And I think they are going to have to pull out some kind of an accord, even if it’s far short of what the Obama administration and the Iranians wanted.

GWEN IFILL: And 24 hours — briefly, 24 hours can make all the difference?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Well, I think that we will see — I personally think we will something within the next day, because we got a statement from the State Department that John Kerry was going to stay at least until Thursday, so that gives him the option to stay longer.

But I think, at this point, people are tired. The negotiators have been up all night long, and day after day, and I think they want to get this done. So I think what we’re probably going to be looking at is some kind of a declaration of agreed principles without too many details behind that.

So, I don’t think you are going to see detailed codicils laying out that Iran has to do this and the other side has to do that. It is going to be more goals, rather than actual steps that have to be taken. And those steeps, which are going to be really the hard part, are going to be what they are going to have to argue about over every line over the next three months.

So, even if we see an agreement today, it’s something that could fall apart within the next three months before the June 30 deadline.

GWEN IFILL: But if there are details, we know you will be there to read and explain them.

Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg, thank you.