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Inside the nuclear deal negotiations with Iran

A Monday deadline looms for a nuclear deal between Iran and the West. Hari Sreenivasan is joined by NewsHour’s William Brangham, who reported from Iran earlier this year, and David Sanger of the New York Times via Skype, who is in Vienna covering the talks.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    As we said earlier, that deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran is tomorrow.

    For more about the state of the negotiations, we are joined now by my colleague William Brangham, who reported earlier this year from Iran, and by David Sanger of The New York Times. He’s in Vienna covering the talks and joins us now via Skype — William.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Thanks, Hari. David, thanks for joining us.

    The president this morning said there are still some significant gaps in the negotiations. What can we likely expect in the next day as these negotiations wrap up?

  • DAVID SANGER:

    Well, I think you can expect that these negotiations are not going to wrap up, that what’s going to happen here is that you will get an extension that may well be wrapped in some kind of description of the progress they have made so far.

    You know, William, they have very extensive drafts and annexes of an agreement, but they don’t have political decisions from the supreme leader in Iran or from President Obama on some of the main issues of dispute, including how many centrifuges Iran could be left with, the fuel stockpiles, how large they would be, which ones would be sent to Russia, and the question of sanctions.

    And all of these require decisions that nobody’s been willing to make, even though this negotiation has been going on for a year.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    So, how do you foresee us ever getting to an agreement?

  • DAVID SANGER:

    Well, I’m not sure that we ever will get to a complete agreement.

    I know that many people on both sides hope that they will. But it’s also possible that, to the United States, this could be a manageable issue if you keep rolling it forward, to some degree. Now, to the Iranians, that’s not completely the case, because it’s their oil that is being kept off the market. And they want to have the normal banking relationships and the normal relationship with the West.

    I think that’s the reason that President Obama’s team is calculating that time is probably on their side. But that could backfire as well if people in Iran begin to pick up a narrative that, in the end, the United States doesn’t — won’t take yes for an answer or won’t even take a partial yes for an answer.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    The — the West’s concern here, obviously, is about Iran’s ability to — to build a nuclear bomb.

    What in the negotiations right now are the stumbling blocks about what the Iranians are actually doing in that regard?

  • DAVID SANGER:

    Well, the concern is that, since Iran says it has no intention of building a weapon, you have to design a system that would lengthen what’s called breakout time, the amount of time it would take to produce one weapon’s worth of fuel.

    Now, right now, that’s down to a few months, the way they have constructed this. And what the United States and the European allies, Russia, and China want to do is to extend that so that if anybody in Iran, even in a different regime, decided to race for a bomb, you would have plenty of warning and time to act, either diplomatically, economically, or militarily.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    Western officials believe that it’s the sanctions that they have imposed that are keeping the Iranians at the negotiating table. And certainly, when I was in Iran earlier this year, I saw how those sanctions were squeezing the economy.

    How much pressure are the Iranians really under?

  • DAVID SANGER:

    Different Iranians are under different pressure.

    So, President Rouhani certainly got elected to get this problem solved, and I think feels very acutely that those sanctions have to come off. But it’s the supreme leader who is making the final decision here. And he’s got a different constituency, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and others, who have invested very heavily in the nuclear program.

    So he’s under some very competing influences here on the question of whether it’s better to live with the sanctions and keep a bigger part of the nuclear program or get rid of the sanctions, but at a cost that many in the Iranian military may view as too high.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    David, if the negotiations don’t bear some fruit, is the — is the military option on behalf of the West still on the table?

  • DAVID SANGER:

    No one in the Obama administration that I have spoken to ever — has ever expressed the view that the military solution is more than a temporary solution.

    You could bomb the facilities and certainly set them back a year or two years or maybe even three years. But you might also redouble Iran’s determination to rebuild those facilities deep underground in a place you couldn’t get at them.

  • WILLIAM BRANGHAM:

    OK. David Sanger from The New York Times, thank you very much.

  • DAVID SANGER:

    Thank you, William. Good to be with you.

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