Just as Barack Obama finished eulogizing Chuck Hagel’s tenure as Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State John Kerry came on the air from Vienna to announce more unfortunate news: the P5+1 negotiating team was unable to come to a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran before today’s deadline.
“In these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface. And that is why we are jointly…extending these talks for seven months with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months.”
Kerry, in a tone of determination unseen after the July extension, went on to underscore the success of the interim deal that was put in place last November, largely thanks to Iran’s compliance under the interim deal, and the strict inspections regime that was able to verify Iran’s cooperation.
Later that day, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif echoed much of the same, again citing “new ideas” that had come to the table in the last hours, disappointment for not obtaining a deal by the deadline, and an eagerness to close the remaining gaps to establish a political framework well before the March deadline.
As soon as it became clear what the officials in Vienna would be reporting, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation released a statement of its own to issue deserved praise for the negotiating teams, who have worked tirelessly and made real progress on solving this nuclear puzzle.
Policy Director Laicie Heeley gave specifics about what an extension will look like, including a continued freeze on Iran’s nuclear program. In his statement, Kerry also applauded the interim deal for scaling back the program, citing Iran’s “zero” stockpile of highly enriched uranium.
A year after Iran, the U.S., and their international partners sealed an interim deal, we must remind ourselves that we are already safer than we were one year ago.
“One year ago, Iran’s nuclear program was rushing full speed toward larger stockpiles, greater uranium enrichment capacity, the production of weapons-grade plutonium, and even shorter breakout time. Today, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back for the first time in a decade,” said Kerry this morning.
Angela Canterbury, Executive Director of the Center, went on to express optimism that a deal be inked, else the opportunity will come for hardliners in both the US and Iran. Presumably, should parties end up walking away from the table with no agreement in place, hardliners in Iran could race toward a nuclear weapon and reverse the progress of the past year. And in the US, congressional hawks could race toward more crippling sanctions or–worse–toward war. “Congress must ask tough questions, said Canterbury, “but allow negotiators the space to press for a good deal, and then verify it to make us safer.”
We’ve seen diplomacy and cooperation, combined with monitoring and verification, bring Iran’s nuclear program to a standstill. Iran and the U.S. are still at the table, eager to finish these negotiations and come to a good deal.
Today was not a failure to come to an agreement. Rather, today was an indication of continued progress on difficult and complex negotiations. Today was an indication the success of these diplomatic efforts—preventing a nuclear-armed Iran—is closer than we realized, and that our diplomats are more eager than ever to get there.