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