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Access is sticking point as Iran nuclear talks are extended

Representatives from Iran and other world powers who are negotiating the country's nuclear program have missed another deadline. The announcement of a week-long extension came from Vienna, where Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with his international counterparts. Jeffrey Brown talks to Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg, reporting from Vienna.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now to another missed deadline, this one between Iran and world powers over that country's nuclear program.

    Representatives from Iran and the so-called P5-plus-one countries, which includes the U.S., have given themselves another full week to negotiate a final deal. The original deadline was midnight tonight.

    In Washington, President Obama said that any final deal must block Iran's path to a nuclear weapon.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I have said from the start I will walk away from the negotiations if in fact it is a bad deal. If we can't provide assurances that the pathways for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are closed, and if we can't verify that, if the inspections regime, the verification regime is inadequate, then we are not going to get a deal. And we have been very clear to the Iranian government about that.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Jeffrey Brown picks up the story from here.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The announcement of an extension, coming with just a few hours to spare, came in Vienna, where Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with his Iranian and other international counterparts.

    Indira Lakshmanan is in Vienna covering the talks for Bloomberg News and joins me now.

    So, Indira, this extension means obviously means they couldn't reach the deadline tonight, but what more does it mean? Where do things stand?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, Bloomberg News:

    Right.

    Well, in the hotel right behind me, the Palais Coburg, we have all the different delegations who are meeting late into the night. Even though the principals, Secretary Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, and the others, may have taken their break for the day, you're talking about nuclear experts, sanctions experts and other chief negotiators who are working until almost 1:00 a.m. every night.

    What we saw happen today was this official extension of the interim accord, which basically gave Iran partial, but not very much sanctions relief, in exchange for them limiting the most sensitive aspects of their nuclear program. As you know, that deal has been in place since January of last year.

    And so this has now been extended until July 7, which essentially gives the two sides another week to try to hammer out the remaining differences and to try to get it to Congress before that July 9 trigger date, which would give Congress an extra 30 days, or two months, to argue about the deal.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, so where are the key sticking points at this point? What do you expect them to be discussing and negotiating over these coming days?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Yes.

    The main problems that remain are really over access. And that means what kind of access are the International Atomic Energy inspectors, the U.N. atomic inspectors, going to have to Iran's most sensitive sites? This of course is key, because it's not only about verifying the deal going forward. It's also about answering this 12-year-old file full of questions that the IAEA has about the potential military dimensions of Iran's nuclear work.

    Now, we know that, in the past, according to U.S. intelligence and other intelligence agencies, Iran was conducting military-related nuclear research towards a nuclear weapon. The question is, Iran has never fessed up to that. I don't think this deal expects that Iran is going to come out with a full confession, but what the negotiators do want is access to the sites, so that they can look at documents, talk to scientists and have an understanding of what Iran's nuclear program was doing in the past to make sure that it keeps limits in the future and is not able to get a nuclear weapon going forward.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, so, today, we heard President Obama talking about the U.S. would walk away if it's not a good deal. How is that being interpreted there? Is that seen as any sort of hardening of the U.S. position?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Look, at this point, I don't think we can talk about hardening of positions. I think what that is, is almost mirroring what the Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said a week ago.

    You will remember he gave a really tough speech in which he said Iran has a number of red lines and we're not going to cross any of them. But, interestingly enough, all of the red lines that he laid out were things that Iran had already agreed to, according to the United States and its negotiating partners, back on April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

    And so it came as a big shock. And everybody was worried, does this mean Iran is going to be backsliding? I'm told by U.S. negotiators that, in fact, in the negotiating room, Iran has not been backsliding, but the Ayatollah Khamenei had to come out with a strong statement for public consumption.

    I think what Obama's doing is, in a way, the same thing. He has to come out with a very strong statement, particularly for Capitol Hill, but for all of those people in the United States who may be suspicious of a deal, not to mention Israel, and say, look, we're not going to take a bad deal, we're only to take a very good deal, and we're not going to accept any backtracking.

    So, that's really what was at play. But I think it's really important to notice that there have been some positive signs, too. Just today, Ayatollah Khamenei tweeted out a picture of his negotiating team all dressed up in these sort of spotless, perfect white scientist jackets just as Foreign Minister Zarif was coming back here from consultations in Tehran, and said something about how he had total trust in his brave negotiators.

    So that definitely seems to be preparing the ground in Iran for a deal coming, I would say, within the next week.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Just very briefly, Indira, I gather on the sidelines there are continuing talks about Americans who are in prison still in Iran. Do we know whether that's playing into these nuclear talks at all?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Well, there are those three Americans, a pastor, a journalist and an ex-Marine, who you mentioned who are imprisoned in Iran.

    And the United States says that in every single meeting that they have with the Iranians, they always bring up those three men and a fourth former FBI agent who has been missing for more than seven years. The issue is that they don't want to tie those men's fate to the talks. The Americans have always said those men need to be released whether or not there is a nuclear deal.

    You can be sure that, of course, at this moment of maximum leverage, that the United States is pushing them very hard on this, but I think the main point is, even if there is a nuclear deal, the whole world is not going to change. The U.S. and Iran are not suddenly going to become friends. There is not going to be a detente or rapprochement.

    The United States just last week called them state sponsors of terror and human rights abusers, so the whole world is not going to change. This is really about a nuclear deal and not much more at this point.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right.

    Indira Lakshmanan in Vienna, thanks so much.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Thank you.

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