Iran and six world powers looked set to miss Monday’s deadline for resolving a 12-year stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and are already looking at a possible extension of the negotiations.
The talks in Vienna aim for a deal that could transform the Middle East, open the door to ending economic sanctions on Iran and start to bring a nation of 76 million people in from the cold after decades of hostility with the West.
The cost of failure to reach a deal could be high. Iran’s regional foes Israel and Saudi Arabia are
watching the Vienna talks nervously. Both fear a weak deal that fails to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, while a collapse of the negotiations would encourage Iran to become a threshold nuclear weapon state, something Israel has said it would never allow.
It became increasingly clear during a week of intensive negotiations between the top U.S. and Iranian diplomats that what officials close to the talks have been predicting privately for weeks is proving to be correct: a final deal is still too far off to hammer out by the parties’ self-imposed deadline.
But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said they would launch one more attempt to get a final agreement.
“At the moment we’re focused on the last push, a big push tomorrow (Monday) morning to try and get this across the line,” he told reporters. “Of course if we’re not able to do it, we’ll then look at where we go from there.”
Some Western officials describe two possible options for a likely rollover. Under one scenario, described as the “stop the clock option,” the talks would simply break off and experts from the parties would reconvene in a few weeks for another attempt.
A lengthier option would be a formal extension into next year, adding new elements to an interim accord from last year.
Several Western officials have questioned the value of repeatedly extending the talks, saying there is little reason to expect the Iranians will show the flexibility needed to end the impasse in the weeks and months ahead. They have questioned the Iranian leadership’s desire to compromise.