U.S. and Iran press nuclear dialogue

Leaders struggle for progress as talks, other issues compete


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VIENNA — The top U.S. and Ira­nian dip­lo­mats searched Mon­day for a break­through in nu­clear talks, their ef­forts com­pli­cated by cri­ses across the Mid­dle East and be­yond that have Wash­ing­ton and Te­hran aligned in some places, but of­ten op­posed.

The state of U.S.-Ira­nian re­la­tions was add­ing a new wrin­kle to the long ne­go­ti­a­tion aimed at curb­ing the Islamic Re­pub­lic’s ura­nium and plu­to­nium pro­grams. While the two sides are ar­gu­ably fight­ing proxy wars in Is­rael, Gaza and Syria, they’re talk­ing co­op­er­a­tion in Iraq and Af­ghan­istan. And, per­haps in a first, the nu­clear mat­ter is bat­tling for full at­ten­tion.

John Kerry, U.S. sec­re­tary of state, and Mo­ham­med Ja­vad Zarif, Ira­nian for­eign min­is­ter, spoke for about two hours around mid­day Mon­day, the sec­ond day of talks in Vi­enna. They gath­ered again in the af­ter­noon, hop­ing to make prog­ress be­fore next Sun­day’s ini­tial dead­line for a com­pre­hen­sive nu­clear agree­ment. An ex­ten­sion of the dead­line is pos­si­ble, though there are foes of that idea on both sides.

“We are in the mid­dle of talks about nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion and rein­ing in Iran’s pro­gram,” Mr. Kerry told U.S. Em­bassy staff in Vi­enna dur­ing a break in the con­ver­sa­tions. “It is a re­ally tough ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

But other mat­ters were be­ing dis­cussed, too, in­clud­ing Af­ghan­istan, where Mr. Kerry vis­ited be­fore Vi­enna to bro­ker a power-shar­ing agree­ment be­tween ri­val pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and a full au­dit of their con­tested elec­tion.

As the two dip­lo­mats sat down Sun­day, Mr. Zarif called Mr. Kerry’s Af­ghan me­di­a­tion “ex­tremely im­por­tant” for the Af­ghan peo­ple and echoed the need “to en­sure the na­tional unity of Af­ghan­istan and pre­vent its breakup.”

“We agree,” Mr. Kerry said. “And it’s good to be­gin with an agree­ment.”

But even as the United States and Iran have re­cently found in­creas­ing ar­eas for co­op­er­a­tion, such as stem­ming a flow of Sunni ex­trem­ists into Iraq, they re­main di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed else­where.

The U.S-Ira­nian re­gional di­vide was un­der­scored Mon­day, as the Is­raeli mil­i­tary downed a drone launched by Gaza mil­i­tants — the first such un­manned air­craft en­coun­tered since the start of the Jew­ish state’s of­fen­sive last week. Iran is Ha­mas’ pri­mary ben­e­fac­tor and the pre­sumed source of its new­found drone ca­pac­ity. Wash­ing­ton pro­vides bil­lions in aid each year to Is­rael.

The State Depart­ment didn’t say whether Mr. Kerry and Mr. Zarif broached the es­ca­lat­ing Is­raeli-Pal­es­tin­ian vi­o­lence or the civil war in neigh­bor­ing Syria, where the United States is pro­vid­ing po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary sup­port to mod­er­ate reb­els fight­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s Ira­nian-backed gov­ern­ment.

But one change ap­peared clear in this week’s talks. Un­like in years past, where U.S.-Ira­nian in­ter­ac­tion ap­peared largely lim­ited to nu­clear mat­ters, the two coun­tries’ in­ter­ests now crisscross at mul­ti­ple lev­els, and their dis­cus­sions are broader.

Mon­day’s talks came a day af­ter Mr. Kerry and the for­eign min­is­ters of Brit­ain, France and Ger­many failed to reach a break­through with Iran on ura­nium en­rich­ment and other is­sues stand­ing in the way of a deal that would curb Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram in ex­change for the end of nu­clear-re­lated sanc­tions on Te­hran. Each of­fi­cial cited sig­nifi­cant gaps.

Iran says it needs to ex­pand en­rich­ment to make re­ac­tor fuel and in­sists that it does not want atomic arms. But the United States and oth­ers fear that Te­hran could steer the ac­tiv­ity to­ward man­u­fac­tur­ing the core of nu­clear mis­siles. Wash­ing­ton is lead­ing the in­sis­tence on deep en­rich­ment cuts.

Even if their in­ter­ests in con­tin­u­ing nu­clear talks align, both face dif­fi­cult in­ter­nal pres­sures against a deal — or an ex­ten­sion for that mat­ter.

Ira­nian hard­liners op­pose al­most any con­ces­sion by Pres­i­dent Has­san Rou­hani’s gov­ern­ment.

In the United States, some law­mak­ers have threat­ened to scut­tle any emerg­ing agree­ment if it would al­low Iran to main­tain some en­rich­ment ca­pac­ity.

A let­ter be­ing cir­cu­lated in Con­gress by Sens. Bob Menen­dez, D-N.J., and Lind­sey Graham, R-S.C., em­pha­sizes that a less­en­ing of U.S. sanc­tions should be con­di­tional on the nu­clear agree­ment mak­ing tough de­mands on Iran.

syria - afghanistan - iran - israel - United States - North America - East Asia - Asia - United States military - United States government - Middle East - Europe - Barack Obama - Western Europe - District of Columbia - Central Asia - U.S. Department of State - Iraq - John Kerry - Palestinian territories - Robert Menendez - Bashar Assad - Lindsey Graham - Austria - Josh Earnest - Gaza Strip - Iran government - Tehran - Vienna - Hassan Rouhani


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