Slim chances for a full Iran nuclear deal by the deadline?

With the deadline for a deal on Tehran's nuclear program just days away, talks are on between U.S and Iranian negotiators in Vienna. How likely is it that they can bridge the gap between their demands by Monday? Hari Sreenivasan talks to David Sanger of The New York Times.

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    U.S. and Iranian negotiators intensified their efforts today to overcome divisions in talks on Tehran's nuclear program. The deadline for a deal is Monday.

    Hari Sreenivasan has the story.


    Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif unexpectedly met for a second time this evening. Despite reservations and objections from Israel, Gulf allies and many in Washington, Kerry is hoping to reach a deal with the country to defuse a 12-year standoff over its nuclear program.

    To get up to speed on the latest, I'm now joined by David Sanger of The New York Times, who is covering the talks in Vienna.

    So, David, this morning, when I read the news, it seemed that both parties were sort of leaving the negotiating table. Now you're telling us they met twice. What happened?

  • DAVID SANGER, The New York Times:

    Well, it's been a day of high drama. It's not been clear that it's been a day of much progress.

    Much of this right now may be sort of last-72-hours brinksmanship. The word this morning was that, after one more meeting, the Iranian negotiator was going to fly back to Tehran, presumably, Hari, to get instructions about last-minute concessions.

    And then we heard that Secretary of State Kerry was going to leave to go to Paris. He wasn't going to stay around here and wait for his Iranian counterpart to return. By the end of the evening, they were both staying. We can't tell if that is because of progress or because there was really no reason to go back and propose anything to Iran's supreme leader.


    OK. Let's talk a little bit about what they're talking about. The deadline is, as you said, just less than 72 hours away. How big is the gap in what both sides want?


    Well, the big — the gap in what they want is pretty huge.

    The question is, how big is the gap in what they would settle for? And we're not entirely certain where they are on each of the main issues. But the things on which they still seem to be divided still are the following.

    First, the Iranians want in any final deal to have all of the sanctions, the sanctions and Western-based sanctions, and the United Nations sanctions, basically lifted almost immediately, but certainly in the very near future by a date certain.

    President Obama wants to make sure that he simply suspends these sanctions, probably through the remaining part of his presidency, while the Iranians begin to comply with the requirements of the agreement, so that he could reimpose sanctions with just the signature of a pen if, in fact, the Iranians don't comply fully.

    And that's a major issue. And of course, with Congress, that's a big issue because don't — they want to vote, and many in Congress want to impose some new sanctions.

    Another big issue is how much uranium enrichment capacity Iran will be left with, and there are all sorts of proposals floating around. But two of the biggest are that Iran send a lot of its existing fuel to Russia, where it will be fabricated into some kind of fuel that they could use in one of their nuclear power plants. That would take it out of the potential for being turned into a weapon.

    The other is that Iran dismantle a large number of its centrifuges, those floor-to-ceiling machines that spin at supersonic speeds and actually enrich the uranium. And that's all part of a complex mathematical calculation about how do you get enough assurance that it would take Iran at least a year, maybe more, to race for a bomb?


    That all said, how likely is a deal by Monday?


    I think the chances of a final deal on Monday are pretty slim. I would put them at well under 50 percent.

    However, it's in neither side's interest at this point to have this entire negotiation fall apart. If that happened, Iran would have no chance of getting the sanctions lifted and would probably start producing nuclear fuel again.

    So I think that the most likely outcome is some agreement in principle or some announcement that they have made some progress on some major areas, but then another extension. And that raises a lot of concerns as well, because it means that people who oppose a deal in Congress and people who oppose a deal in Tehran, which includes the Revolutionary Guard Corps, might have time to move in and sort of kill off the chances of any kind of final agreement.



    All right, David Sanger of The New York Times joining us from Vienna, thanks so much.


    Thank you, Hari.

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