If a deal can’t be reached on a contentious issue before an agreed deadline, the best next possible deal is one to continue talks. There is no alternative to negotiations, and extra time and more intense negotiations have a positive effect of nudging both sides to make concessions to avert a crisis. It is for this reason that an agreement reached between Iran and six world powers to extend talks over Tehran’s contested nuclear activities through late November is a welcome development. As a Sunday deadline loomed, negotiators announced that they were unable to complete the deal now. The new deadline to either complete a final deal or walk away from the landmark effort is November 24.
An agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme is not easy due to the complexity of the issue. After months of intense talks, there are still significant gaps on some core areas which will require more time and effort. And complicating the talks are the rigid positions of hardliners in Iran and America who want maximum concessions from the other side, though officials are more focused on making a deal a reality.
A comprehensive agreement by the new deadline is not a certainty, but optimism is the most prevalent mood among all sides. Since the current round of talks began on July 2, huge progress has been made on a number of issues and the prospects of a final deal have improved, according to sources close to the negotiations. Tehran has realised that it stands to benefit most from a deal. Economic sanctions imposed by the West have taken a huge toll on the lives of Iranians, and the failure to reach a deal would mean more sanctions and misery which Iranians are not prepared for. The West too stands to benefit by way of increased trade with Iran.
Negotiations have been stuck on the crucial issue of how much of Iran’s current nuclear programme it would retain. Iran insists on a ‘robust’ uranium enrichment capability as a precondition of any deal, while Washington and its European allies want to ensure that Iran was not left with the ability to produce nuclear weapons. Future negotiations would focus on finding a face-saving formula. Iran would like a deal that can be sold to a hardline audience at home. Foregoing all the progress it has made so far would be an impossibility. Also, domestic nuclear capability has become a point of national pride. Both sides will have to work out a formula that will let Iranian leaders claim success while crippling Iran’s nuclear abilities to a point that would make a weapon very difficult to manufacture.
That diplomat, who demanded anonymity to describe the emerging deal, acknowledged that the likely outcome — if an agreement can be brokered at all — is not an absolute guarantee that Iran will never make a weapon•