A nuclear deal by the stroke of midnight on November 25, the deadline on talks between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program, is now an "impossible" feat, Iranian diplomats said from Vienna on Sunday.
Instead, delegates at the nuclear talks are discussing an extension of their efforts. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed adding more time in a private meeting on Monday, one senior US official said.
"Our focus remains on taking steps forward toward an agreement, but it is only natural that just over 24 hours from the deadline we are discussing a range of options both internally and with our P5+1 partners," a senior State Department official said, referring to the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany. "An extension is one of those options."
And while a deal seems far from reach, all parties seemed to agree on the need to find a path forward "so that the road does not end here," Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "but that the negotiating process can be continued."
On the ground, Iranian diplomats were suggesting a non-paper political agreement– solidifying gains thus far achieved throughout nearly a year of negotiations– would include an extension. But one source at the talks in Vienna told The Jerusalem Post that no such framework was in the works.
"Considering the short time left until the deadline and number of issues that needed to be discussed and resolved, it is impossible to reach a final and comprehensive deal by Nov. 24," Iran's ISNA news agency quoted an unidentified member of the country's negotiating team in Vienna as saying. A European diplomat, quoted by Western media, also used the term "impossible" as the clock wound down.
An extension beyond January 2015 would require the parties to renegotiate an interim deal implemented last January, granting them a maximum twelve months to negotiate. An alternative is a smaller extension to the outer limit of that interim deal.
Either path would likely require further concessions on both sides: Added caps on Iran's enrichment of uranium agreed upon by Tehran, and the further easing of sanctions on Iran granted by world powers, possibly in the form of airplane shipments or the delivery of heavy oil drilling equipment.
As top diplomats flooded Vienna for the deadline, their public line seemed to be clear: World powers are still far apart from Iran on several key issues, primarily on its massive uranium enrichment program. Iran is reluctant to dismantle any of its nuclear infrastructure, while the US seeks significant dismantlement.
Iranian state-run media reported increased surveillance of foreign military maneuvers by the Iran Navy on Sunday, after a Post report detailed Israel's reconsideration of the use of force against Iran, should a bad deal come to pass in Vienna.
"The level of Iran’s military might remains 'ambiguous' to hostile countries," Iran's Press TV reported, quoting an Iranian naval commander. "Therefore, any aggression against the country entails 'very dangerous risks' for the enemies."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reinforced comments made in the Post article over the weekend, reiterating that Israel would always reserve the right to defend itself, by itself.
Israel, he said in an interview on ABC's This Week on the eve of the deadline, “will always reserve the right to defend itself against any threat with its own power.”
Netanyahu defined as a “bad deal” any agreement “that would allow Iran to remain with thousands of centrifuges which it could use to enrich uranium, which you need for a nuclear bomb, in a short period of time.”
Netanyahu said the “key principle” is to not dismantle sanctions before Iran's capacity to make a nuclear bomb is dismantled.
“As I understand it,” he said, “the Iranians are nowhere near accepting that. And if, for any reason, the United States and the other powers agree to leave Iran with that capacity to breakout, I think that would be a historic mistake.”
Earlier in the day, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu repeated what he has been saying for months: that no nuclear deal with Iran is preferable to a bad deal that will endanger Israel, the Middle East and the entire world.
Netanyahu said Israel was carefully following the negotiations in Vienna, and was in close contact with the representatives of the P5+1– the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany– negotiating with the Iranians. He said that US Secretary of State John Kerry briefed him Saturday night on the talks.
The prime minister said that Israel was making clear its position to the world powers that Iran must not be allowed to be recognized as a nuclear threshold power. “There is no reason that it be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges that will enable it to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in a short time,” he said.
Netanyahu added that there was also no reason that Iran be allowed to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry a nuclear payload and threaten the entire world.
He echoed these comments during the ABC interview, asking “why in heaven's name does Iran need intercontinental ballistic missiles, they don't need those missiles to reach Israel, they need it to reach Europe and the United States. And the only thing you carry on intercontinental ballistic missiles are nuclear warheads. So I think the issue here is not merely Israel, but everyone, the entire war. Everyone, the entire world, nearly all the regimes in the Middle East– with the exception of the Syrian regime– understand this is a great danger.”
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