It’s nuclear crunch time. Iran and the P5+1 nations* have until Sunday to either reach a long-term deal on reducing Iran’s nuclear program (as everyone hopes), declare the negotiations a failure (which could spell disaster) or, far from favourably, extend the deadline for agreement. There are divisions in the Iran camp, which make an imminent agreement unlikely.
A few weeks ago the mood of the talks was optimistic -as Iran made concessions on items such as the future of its Arak nuclear reactor- but in recent days pessimis has reigned, as it becomes clear a giant gap remains on the crucial question of how much capacity Iran will retain to enrich uranium for what it insists is a peaceful nuclear program.
While it was presumed that President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif had authority to broker the nuclear deal, there are new signs the Iranian team may not have the full backing of Iran's supreme leader. Last week, Ayatollah Khamenei rocked the talks with a speech in which he appeared to say that Iran needs to not only retain the ability to enrich uranium, but also to do so on a much larger scale than it does currently.
US officials don’t want to extend the deadline, as that would reduce the pressure to secure a long-term agreement, but if Zarif is battling to achieve agreement inside Iran, it is unlikely Iran will be able to consolidate its position and commit to an international deal within a matter of days. So let us pray urgently that progress will be made to secure peace and avert war.
*US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany