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Negotiators race to meet deadline on Iran’s nuclear program

Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz met with technical experts on Saturday as talks continue with Iran over the country’s controversial nuclear program. Bloomberg News reporter Indira Lakshmanan was there when the group broke for the afternoon. Lakshmanan joins Hari Sreenivasan from Vienna for the latest on the contentious deal.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    In Vienna, negotiators are racing to meet a July 7th deadline for a deal on Iran's nuclear program. Late last night, Iran's foreign minister announced that Tehran was ready to strike a deal and that negotiators had, quote, "never been closer to a lasting outcome." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agrees they're making progress but says there's still a lot of work to be done.

    Diplomats from the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany want Iran to scale back its nuclear program to make sure it cannot build a nuclear weapon. But Iran wants leaders to lift crippling economic sanctions before it makes any changes to its nuclear program, allowing access to U.N. weapons inspectors has also become a major sticking point.

    Bloomberg News reporter Indira Lakshmanan has been covering the story, and she joins me now from Vienna.

    Indira, they say close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. So, how close are we to reaching a deal here?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BLOOMBERG NEWS REPORTER:

    Well, yes, that's exactly right. I mean, you can be close but no cigar, as the old say can goes. And the American delegation has been clear in telling us that while they are closer than they ever have been before, that this still could go up in flames if some very important political decisions are not taken. Of course, what they mean by that is that the Iranians have to make some decisions about giving access and specifically access for the IAEA, which means the U.N. monitors to inspect and meet with people and scientist look at sites where there are suspicions of past military nuclear work on Iran's part. So, that's going to be probably the key thing that needs to be worked out for this deal to come together in the coming days.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, there was some progress on that earlier this week. The IAEA announced that by the end of the year, they would actually have a report on this. I mean, that seemed like a step in the right direction, that Iran could understand that, the U.N. could like it, the U.S. could, too.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Yes. That actually just happened today, Hari. It was really huge news, and that's IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano who just came back from Tehran two days ago, and he came before reporters today and said that if Tehran cooperates, that they feel that the U.N. could put together its report, address all of the concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear work in the past by the end of the year.

    But the key part that have sentence is, "if Tehran cooperates". So, what our sources tell us is that that right now, the two sides are working on a list. They're working on putting together a list based on U.S. intelligence and other western intelligence, Israeli intelligence, figuring out who are the important people and what are the important sites, and trying to make sure that Iran agrees that those sites can be investigated, those people can be interviewed.

    So, with these sort of what is known as the additional protocol-plus, plus more access. So, that's really what they have to get to the bottom. And we haven't even mentioned this, but sanctions is the other critical piece. For Iran to give all of this access, they want to get sanctions relief on the other end, and that's the other sticking point particularly in terms of time schedule, how that's going to work, that they still need to work out and we're going to be waiting for foreign ministers to come together tomorrow in the building right behind me, the Coburg Palace, where these negotiations are taking place, to make those final decisions.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, speaking of timing, and this is what makes negotiations sticky, both sides want the other side to do their part first.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Right. Well, we do understand that in the last few days, there has been this critical agreement that they are — there is going to be simultaneity, that while the United States and E.U. preparing the legal steps, the regulatory steps that they need to take to give sanctions relief — on oil sanctions, banking sanctions, unfreezing assets and the rest — that for its part, Iran will be taking all of the steps that it needs to curb its nuclear program.

    So, the working idea is that on the day that the United Nations verifies yes, Iran has taken those steps, that on the very same day, the sanctions would be lifted.

    So, you know, it's going to be a complicated thing. I think it's something we could see perhaps by the end of the year. But Americans have told me they think it's more likely early next year. This really depends out quickly Iran is willing to take those steps that it needs to do to curb its nuclear activity.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And, finally, what are the U.S. sources that you've spoken to saying about chances of this getting through Congress?

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Yes, I mean, if it was hard to seal this deal here in Vienna, I think it's going to be really hard to seal this deal on Capitol Hill, to sell it to all of the congressmen who are predisposed against it. I mean, the fact is, it's not representative of where the American people are. When you look at the polling, most of the polling is very much in favor of the nuclear deal. But on Capitol Hill, there is lot of suspension about this. Also amongst think tanks and public intellectuals, there are a lot of people who are concerned and think that Iran cannot be trusted in any nuclear deal. And part of that is because Israel's prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, has raised a lot of his concerns.

    So, I think we're going to — if this deal happen, they're going to have a 30-day period during which Congress can review it and can either say yea or nay, and I think those are going to be 30 incredibly, you know, tendentious days to be watching.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Indira Lakshmanan joining us from Vienna of Bloomberg News — thanks so much.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN:

    Thanks.

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