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Tense and fatigued, negotiators extend Iran nuclear talks past deadline

The revised deadline for Iran, the U.S. and five other Western powers to come to a nuclear agreement came and went without a deal. The White House said there won’t be a deal until the sticking points are resolved. Judy Woodruff gets an update from Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg, reporting from Vienna.

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    The latest deadline to reach a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran came and went today, with no deal to show for it.

    Iran, the United States, and five other major world powers will keep negotiating for a long-term agreement that tackles some of its most contentious issues. No new formal deadline has been set.

    And at the White House today, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there won't be a deal until the sticking points are resolved.

  • JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary:

    The president will not accept any sort of an agreement that falls short of the political commitments that were made back in April. And as Secretary Kerry himself said back on Sunday, we have never been closer to reaching a final agreement than we are now.


    For more on the Iran nuclear talks, we turn to Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg news.

    She is in Vienna, and I spoke to her a short while ago.

    Indira, welcome.

    So what is the significance of missing this? The Americans wanted this deadline. The Iranians really didn't.

  • INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, Bloomberg News:

    Well, I mean, this is the fifth deadline that diplomats have missed in these Iran talks over the last two years.

    I say deadline, but, in effect, they're really self-imposed target dates that the six powers in Iran have set for each other, trying to reach some aspect of agreement at each point. Now, we have missed this deadline. What they have done in the meantime is extended until Friday the interim agreement that gives temporary limited sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for freezing their nuclear program where it is now and stopping the most sensitive nuclear work they do.

    But diplomats have made clear to us on both sides that even though they're trying to get this deal by Friday now, there is no guarantee that will happen, that talks could continue after Friday or they could simply fail, we have been told.


    And what are the main unresolved issues? What's known about that?


    Well, we heard from the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, today that the arms embargo on Iran imposed at the United Nations remains a really big sticking point. Iran wants this lifted, and the U.N. and its negotiating partners have insisted that it cannot be lifted.

    They are also saying that they want to maintain restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program, although they're not getting into the details of whether some aspect of that missile program may be allowed. We were talking earlier about the significance of missing this deadline.

    And I just want to point out that, if they don't get a deal by this Friday, then it automatically doubles the amount of time that the U.S. Congress will have to review this deal. If they get it by Friday, Congress only has 30 days to give the thumbs up or the thumbs down. If they don't get it by Friday, then Congress automatically has two months to go over it and pick over every single detail of the deal.


    Indira, what are you hearing about the atmospherics, about how it's going behind closed doors?


    Well, it's incredibly tense and exhausting, as you can imagine.

    This is 22 months of negotiations. A senior American official told us tonight that they calculated that they had taken 69 trips across the Atlantic. This is the second Fourth of July that the team has spent in Vienna. It's been 100 degrees, unseasonably hot. The air conditioning in Vienna is really not up to snuff for that kind of weather.

    And we heard from a senior Western diplomat that there was quite a heated exchange last night between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the other six foreign ministers. Apparently, no actual slamming of doors, but some tempers really flared as they pressed him to make concessions that he didn't want to make.

    So I think, at this point, everyone is getting a little bit to the end of their rope. But the Americans have told us again and again that, no matter how tired they are, they're not going to settle for a deal that, as the president said, is less than what they agreed to in April in Lausanne, and that if they can't get that good deal, then there will simply be no deal.

    An American official told us that they felt that it would be a tragedy if we had gotten this far and we couldn't get a deal, but at the same time, they are not willing to accept a substandard deal that, first of all, wouldn't even make it through Congress' muster, for that matter.


    So, finally, what are the expectations, that they will come together in the end? And is the U.S. and its allies, the countries it's negotiating with across the table from Iran, are they sticking together?


    So far, from what we understand, they are sticking together, which is interesting because there is certainly a lot of tensions between the United States and Russia, to say the least, over Ukraine, Syria, and other issues.

    But what we're told by the Americans and the Russians is that, despite their other differences, they have stood together on this along with the Europeans and the Chinese, and really have a solid position that they're coming to Iran with.

    One little development that we heard today is that the access issue for U.N. atomic inspectors, looks like that is something that they may be in the process of resolving or it may be resolved. Of course, as the Americans always say nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It's like a Rubik's Cube, and every piece has to fall into place.

    I think, if you ask me, that it's more likely than not that they will get a deal by Friday, but they have prepared us for the possibility that, if Iran doesn't make the so-called tough political decisions it needs to, that these talks could, in fact, collapse, and then we would be in completely new territory, Judy.


    Well, Indira, you and the rest of the press corps and the rest of the world continues to wait. Thank you.


    Thank you.

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