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Facing A Monday Deadline, Iran's Nuclear Talks Are Extended


The past year, Iran has halted most of its nuclear activities. This is because of an interim agreement with six world powers that expires today. But after months of talks to craft a long-term agreement, negotiators have agreed instead to just extend the temporary deal and keep talking. They've been talking in Vienna, and NPR's Peter Kenyon is there covering these discussions. Peter, good morning.


GREENE: So this decision to delay a long-term agreement and keep talking over a period of months, what does that mean?

KENYON: Well, it means that they couldn't close the biggest gaps, gaps that everyone knew was out there all along. And they just haven't been able to reach agreements on the size of the Iranian nuclear program, especially enriching the uranium and the schedule for lifting sanctions or easing sanctions, which is also a very contentious issue.

What members of the various delegations and analysts are saying here at the moment is that there will be an extension for several months. There may be one deadline coming up in a few months, and then they may have furthered time, say, perhaps until July even, to keep on negotiating. But they do seem very concerned that the political climate may get worse, and so they are under the gun now to show some progress, I'd say.

GREENE: A couple things I want to ask you about there. You mentioned the size of the nuclear program. Are you saying one thing they can't agree on is what sort of limited program Iran would be allowed to have under a long-term deal?

KENYON: That's right. They won a major concession, really, from the Western point of view, in the interim deal that was agreed to in Geneva a year ago, and that was a recognition of the right to enrich some uranium on Iranian soil. Now, that can be used to fuel a nuclear reactor. It could also be used to fuel a bomb at a higher enrichment. So it's a very touchy subject. Iran was happy to have it recognized.

But the question of how much and how big a program is extremely contentious. The West is very concerned that there not be any covert program somewhere that might be able to use this enriched uranium without U.N. inspectors knowing. So this is one of the big ones and the other one, of course, the sanctions.

GREENE: Sanctions, which Iran obviously wants to get rid of, and the West is not prepared to do that.

KENYON: Yes, at least not as quickly as Iran wants. Iran's been suffering. The economy is very depressed, and if they are going to roll back their nuclear programs and spend so much time and money on, they wanted an immediate lifting of some of the key sanctions. But in the West, that's very hard to do. So far, they're only offering to suspend the sanctions at first and see what happens after that. And frankly, lifting some of those sanctions - the ones imposed by Congress - are going to be very hard no matter what Iran agrees to, and there's concerns about the U.N. sanctions as well.

GREENE: Well, help me understand the political climate going forward. It seems that this interim deal, if it remains in place as they keep talking - that's a success in itself because, as we said, Iran has halted many of its nuclear activities. But you're suggesting that the political climate could get worse. Well, what does that mean, and could it mean that Iran might actually decide, as these talks go on and on, that they're just going to resume some of those activities again?

KENYON: Well, you're right. The stopping of the stockpiling of Iran's 20 percent-enriched uranium - its most sensitive fuel - that's gone. The U.N. inspectors have daily access. The situation is actually quite good right now. But the political climate is only going to worsen when the Republican Senate comes in in January, and they really do need to show some tangible progress quickly if they want to keep these talks alive.

GREENE: Republicans, we should say, in general, are often tougher on Iran and aren't so open to dealmaking with the Iranian government.

KENYON: Well, honestly, it's a fairly easy blow to both Republicans and many Democrats. The tendency in Congress is always to be hard on Iran. The question now is whether that will affect a political deal or if this extension can be made to work.

GREENE: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Vienna where they have decided to extend an interim agreement with Iran that is aimed at preventing it from having a nuclear program. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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