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Iran Nuclear Talks: Gap Remains Over Access To Iran's Military Sites


With less than a week to go until the deadline for a final deal on Iran's nuclear program, Iran's supreme leader is laying out new demands. He says sanctions must be lifted early on. Plus, he appears to be ruling out U.N. inspections of Iran's military bases. Those extensive inspections are something negotiators from the U.S. and other countries are insisting on. NPR's Peter Kenyon has this report on the push to make Iran's nuclear program as transparent as possible.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As Americans move into the season of beaches, baseball and barbecues, there may be fewer people on the lookout for the latest news from the Iran nuclear talks. You could not, however, say the same thing about Iranians.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

KENYON: What you're hearing in this online video from a rally in the historic city of Isfahan is a refrain of we won't allow it. There's a list of nuclear demands that Iran considers excessive. Some are symbolic, like perceived slights to Iran's dignity. But there are also concrete objections to provisions the U.S. and its allies consider vital to a viable deal. They're aimed at making Iran's nuclear program so transparent that it couldn't pursue a covert weapons program, what experts sometimes call the sneak-out option. The sharpest gap there may be over access by U.N. inspectors to Iran's military sites. That demand has Iran's hard-liners seeing a red line that must not be crossed. President Hassan Rouhani is trying to placate them.


PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) This is final - not only our military secrets but our secrets in other areas of technology. We will never allow any of these secrets to fall into the hands of others.

KENYON: The UN has long sought answers to lingering questions about Iran's past research that could be related to a nuclear weapons program. Iran has answered some of the questions and left others unanswered, arguing that it's an attempt to pry into Iran's defenses by Western intelligence agencies. In the West, skeptics of the deal were alarmed when Secretary of State John Kerry recently seemed to downplay the importance of these past activities.


SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: We're not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another. We know what they did. We have no doubt. What we're concerned about is going forward.

KENYON: In other words, getting a signed confession on every experiment Iran may have conducted in the past is less important than making sure U.N. inspectors will be able to catch Tehran if it conducts any weapons-related activity over the next decade or more. Analyst Simon Henderson, with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says that's where it looks like the Obama administration is letting Tehran off the hook because in order to know how quickly Iran could move toward having a nuclear weapon, they need to know how close it came in the past.

SIMON HENDERSON: Secretary Kerry takes a different point of view. And the past, apparently in his mind, is an inconvenience and something which, if we concentrate too much on, will only impede the agreement likely at the end of the month.

KENYON: Mark Fitzpatrick, at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies in London, disagrees. He says Kerry probably shouldn't have openly downplayed the need for absolute clarity on Iran's past actions, but he's right to focus on giving access to the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to prevent any such activity in the future.

MARK FITZPATRICK: Most people looking at this would believe that we're never going to get perfect clarity. They're never going to admit to having sinned in the past. The key thing is not to set the wrong precedent for the future, not to say that the IEA would never be able to visit military sites or not be able to interview scientists.

KENYON: On this and a series of other tough issues, negotiators are seeking compromises that can be sold to both Iranian hardliners and to Congress as a victory. That's the needle negotiators will be trying to thread in the coming days. Peter Kenyon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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