Secretary of State John Kerry is sticking around for at least another day of tense talks over Iran’s nuclear program, pushing negotiations into double overtime — even as other foreign ministers were sitting it out and the White House repeated a threat that all sides are “prepared to walk away.”
“We continue to make progress but have not reached a political understanding,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a brief statement, revealing that Kerry would once again postpone his departure from the Switzerland talks and “remain in Lausanne until at least Thursday morning to continue the negotiations.”
Negotiators already had blown past a Tuesday at midnight deadline to push talks into Wednesday. It remained unclear whether talks continuing into Thursday could yield a deal framework.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said negotiators were still facing a “tough struggle,” indicating the talks were not likely to end anytime soon. “Tonight there will be new proposals, new recommendations. I can’t predict whether that will sufficient to enable an agreement to be reached,” he said.
At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused his country’s negotiating partners, particularly the U.S., of having “defective” political will in the talks.
“I’ve always said that an agreement and pressure do not go together, they are mutually exclusive,” he told reporters. “So our friends need to decide whether they want to be with Iran based on respect or whether they want to continue based on pressure.”
The foreign ministers of China, France and Russia previously had departed Lausanne Tuesday night. With talks bleeding into Thursday, France’s foreign minister reportedly was on his way back.
But patience may be wearing thin.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that talks were “making some progress” but that “we have not yet received the specific, tangible commitments we and the international community require.”
And he restated a threat that the U.S. and others are prepared to leave the table.
“We’re going to drive a hard bargain and we’re going to expect Iran to make serious commitments,” he said. “And we’re going to give them the opportunity to do so. But if they don’t, the international community, alongside the United States, is prepared to walk away and consider some alternatives.”
Iran has pushed back not only on the substance of the commitments the sides must make but to the form in which they will make them, demanding that it be a general statement with few specifics. That is politically unpalatable for the Obama administration which must convince a hostile Congress that it has made progress in the talks so lawmakers do not enact new sanctions that could destroy the negotiations.
Zarif said the result of this round of talks “will not be more than a statement.”
A senior Western official pushed back on that, saying that nothing about a statement had been decided and that Iran’s negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details. The official was not authorized to speak to the negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
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