As Iran talks continue, lifting arms embargo is non-starter for U.S.

Though a number of self-imposed deadlines have come and gone, the world's major powers will continue to negotiate on an Iranian nuclear deal throughout the weekend in hopes of clinching an agreement. Judy Woodruff gets an update from Michael Gordon of The New York Times, reporting from Vienna.

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    The world's major powers will continue to negotiate with Iran throughout the weekend, aiming to clinch an agreement that would curb that country's nuclear program. A number of self-imposed deadlines have come and gone.

    For an update on where things stand, we turn to Michael Gordon of The New York Times, who has been covering the talks in Vienna. I spoke with him a short while ago.

    Michael, welcome.

    It's late Friday night there, another delay. Where do things stand?

  • MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times:

    Well, I do have the sense that they're beginning to close in on the final accord. This is going to be the third weekend that we're here in Vienna, and I'm positive that Secretary of State John Kerry has never been in one place as long as he's been here as the secretary of state.

    But there is a sense of progress, and we're waiting to see if this thing comes together in the next day or two.


    Is it clear what they have made progress on and where the hangups are still?


    Well, I think they have made a lot of progress in defining the nuclear provisions of the accord.

    Certainly, we already know that they have decided on the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to have. I think they have made progress on what research and development will be allowed on new types of centrifuges. I think there have been some very delicate issues to work out on — in terms of sanctions and the timing of sanctions relief.

    And there was a new one that cropped up this week. Actually, it was an old one that reemerged, and that's whether to lift the arms embargo on Iran. And that's been a very contentious issue this past week.


    So why is that coming up at the last minute?


    Well, it's something that Americans really thought they had resolved or at least finessed in Lausanne in April, and previous Security Council resolutions at the United Nations banned the import or export of conventional arms and missile technology to Iran.

    And the Iranians had wanted this off, but that's really a nonstarter in the American political system. I mean, the idea that you're going to give Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief, so that they can go buy conventional arms that increases their military power in the region is just not going to fly in the American Congress or even among President Obama's Democratic allies in the Congress.

    And the Americans thought they had that resolved, but it came back this week. And the Iranians had some support really from the Russians and the Chinese, both of whom want to sell them arms.


    How do you see that getting resolved?


    Well, I really don't think this is one that the United States can — will give in on, and I think probably the best resolution would be if both sides come to the conclusion that there is a lot more at stake in this agreement.

    This is probably the most important arms agreement in several decades, with all sorts of ramifications for U.S.-Iranian relation, for the region. And I think, in the end, both sides are going to come to the conclusion that that's too important to risk for the lifting of the arms embargo. I don't think it will be lifted. I think it will remain a feature of a U.N. resolution and I think the Iranians the Russians just won't like it and maybe they will sort of agree to disagree. That would be my best guess as to how this comes out.


    So, Michael, you mentioned some disagreement or difference of opinion among the U.S. and its negotiating partners. Is that serious? Is that turning out to be something serious or what? How do you see the group sitting across the table from Iran holding together?


    Well, the United States, and particularly Secretary Kerry, have really been in the lead for the last six months, if not longer, and the other five countries involved in the talks with Iran show up at critical junctures.

    And the United States has often said that the Russians have been very cooperative in these talks, that this has been one area of U.S.-Russian relations where things have gone well, unlike Ukraine or Syria or arms control.

    But I think the Russians have been a bit difficult over this past week because of their interest in getting the arms embargo lifted for their own, really, financial reasons. But I think, in the end, if Iran can live with the agreement, the Russians and Chinese will go along, and I don't really see it as a show-stopper.


    Michael Gordon with The New York Times spending one more weekend in Vienna, we thank you.


    Thank you.

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