(Repeats with no change to text)
By Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi
NEW YORK/ANKARA, June 4 It is increasingly
unlikely that six world powers and Iran will meet their July 20
deadline to negotiate a long-term deal for Iran to curb its
nuclear program in return for an end to economic sanctions,
diplomats and analysts say.
In theory, an extension to the high-stakes talks should not
be a problem if all sides want it. But President Barack Obama
would need to secure Congress' consent at a time of fraught
relations between the administration and lawmakers.
Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia
and China included the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive
agreement in an interim deal they reached in Geneva on Nov. 24.
The November agreement allowed for a six-month extension if
more time was needed for a final deal to end sanctions on Iran
and remove the threat of war.
An extension would allow up to half a year more for limited
sanctions relief and limits on Iranian nuclear work as agreed in
Geneva. To avoid an open conflict with Congress, Obama would
want U.S. lawmakers' approval to extend that sanctions relief.
The latest round of talks in Vienna last month ran into
difficulties when it became clear that the number of enrichment
centrifuges Iran wanted to maintain was well beyond what would
be acceptable to the West. That disagreement, envoys said, can
be measured in tens of thousands of centrifuges.
As a result, the latest round of Vienna talks broke off last
month with Tehran and Western powers accusing each other of
While talk of an extension could be a negotiating tactic,
members of both sides appeared to favor the idea.
EXTENSION A "FOREGONE CONCLUSION"
Barring a surprise breakthrough in the next round in Vienna
on June 16 to 20, Western officials said an extension was
virtually a foregone conclusion. "We're far apart," one diplomat
said, adding that the talks would be "long and complicated."
The sides said last month that they had intended to start
drawing up a final pact but the full-scale drafting did not
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the
priority for France was to reach a good deal rather than to rush
through an agreement.
An Iranian official told Reuters, "We have to get rid of the
sanctions immediately. Therefore, the talks will end when this
issue is totally resolved. A few more months will kill no
one." Pushing the deadline to October would be fine, he said.
Tehran insists it needs to maintain a domestic uranium
enrichment capability to produce fuel for nuclear power plants
without having to rely on foreign suppliers.
Western governments and their allies suspect Iran wants the
ability to produce atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran denies.
No one had an interest in letting the negotiations collapse
and boosting the risk of war, said Gary Samore of Harvard
University, who was the National Security Council's top nuclear
security official in the first Obama administration.
"Although there will be strong opposition in both Washington
and Tehran, I don't think either side can afford to take the
blame for walking away from the table if the other side is
prepared to continue," said Samore.
IRAN REFORMS AT STAKE
Failure of the talks would strengthen the position of
hard-liners in Iran's clerical establishment against President
Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who has sought to improve relations
with the United States. The countries broke off ties during a
hostage crisis after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"Rouhani has put all his eggs in this basket. Failure of the
talks means failure of reforms in Iran," an Iranian official
close to Rouhani's government said.
If there is an extension, the Obama administration will seek
the blessing of Congress. U.S. officials voiced confidence to
Reuters they would ultimately get it, but it appears it would
not come without a fight.
Members of Congress are already expressing concern about a
possible delay. Republican Representative Kerry Bentivolio said
last week that Obama had not updated lawmakers on the Vienna
talks frequently enough.
To get an extension, he said, "Iran must make real and
meaningful concessions and convince us it is not simply
Privately, administration officials said they believed
members of Congress were unlikely to risk the blame for
torpedoing the talks. "They (Congress) don't want to take the
blame for destroying a deal," one U.S. official said.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Arshad Mohammed
in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Ari Rabinovitch in
Jerusalem, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels and John Irish in Paris;
Editing by Clarence Fernandez)