For Iran And The West, A Rocky Year For Nuclear Diplomacy
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2015 could be a make-or-break year for efforts to guarantee that Iran can't acquire a nuclear weapon. Experts said the same thing about 2014. Instead, two deadlines came and went with negotiators failing to bridge their differences. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports on the rocky year for nuclear diplomacy.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: After the rush of optimism that accompanied 2013's signing of the interim nuclear deal in Geneva, Iranians gradually realized that the drive to get economic sanctions lifted was losing momentum. They pinned their hopes on July, the deadline for signing a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Conservative critics in Iran grew alarmed. President Hassan Rouhani came under attack. And he lashed out at his detractors.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through translator). Through lies and hype, some people are trying to derail the government from its path. And this is against national interest and the leader's order. Iran does not compromise on the people's interest.
KENYON: But the critics needn't have worried. The July deadline came and went. And the same thing happened when the first extension ran out in November. Along the way, Iran's supreme leader had tossed a rhetorical monkey wrench into the works. On his website he listed in specific and technical terms a demand for a huge program for creating nuclear fuel, which can have both peaceful and weapons uses. What Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was asking for was far bigger than anything the country has ever had.
ALI ANSARI: When we look back on it, his intervention was not helpful.
KENYON: Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history at the University of St. Andrews, puts it down to Iran's unrealistic expectations after the interim deal was signed. Having just won a major concession from the West, tacit acceptance of Iran's right to enrich any uranium at all on its own soil, Khamenei upped the ante by insisting on the industrial scale program.
ANSARI: If you look back in the history of the nuclear program in Iran, even in the prerevolutionary period there was never really any enthusiasm for Iran having an enrichment program on its own soil. But I think once they got that I think they assumed that they could perhaps push the boundaries of the envelope a little bit further.
KENYON: Another Iran expert, Ali Vaez at the International Crisis Group, says if there is to be a nuclear deal in 2015, Iran will have to reconsider its enrichment demands.
ALI VAEZ: The solution would probably require Iran to postpone its plans for industrial scale enrichment. In return, I think the P5+1 should show more flexibility on qualitative or quantitative growth in Iran's enrichment program.
KENYON: Another painful compromise for Tehran involves the lifting of sanctions, something the U.S. says can't happen in the early stages of any nuclear accord. Having spent much of his term in office raising Iranian's hopes about the end of sanctions, Vaez says President Rouhani should get busy lowering those expectations.
VAEZ: When it gets to sanctions relief, I think Iran has to accept that lifting the sanctions in the early stages of the agreement is not possible.
KENYON: In return, Vaez says Washington and its allies should be prepared to offer Iran a clear roadmap spelling out what relief Iran can expect for each nuclear concession it makes, with no room for ambiguities. Negotiators have set themselves a soft deadline of March 1 to come up with a so-called political agreement of what will be in a final nuclear deal, which is due by July 1. Secretary of State John Kerry told a Washington audience this month that he's not aiming to take all of the allotted time.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: By the way, though it said seven months, we're not looking at seven months. I think the target is three, four months and hopefully even sooner if that is possible.
KENYON: First, however, negotiators will have to find some way to recover the momentum they lost in 2014. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.