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Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming today for this backgrounder. It’s amazing to think that only a few months ago, many of us were in Geneva in the freezing cold finalizing the Joint Plan of Action at 4 in the morning. And today, we find ourselves at the halfway point in these comprehensive negotiations in a somewhat warmer and beautiful Vienna. Geneva was beautiful, just cold. (Laughter.)
In the past two days, we have continued our substantive discussions about all of the issues that will have to be part of a comprehensive agreement – every single issue you can imagine. These sessions have been in-depth and the conversations have given us important additional insights into where the biggest and most challenging gaps will be as we move forward.
At this point, we don’t know if we’ll be successful in bridging those gaps, but we are certainly committed, as everyone in the room is, to trying. One thing to keep in mind as we reach this midway mark is that all sides have kept all of the commitments they made in the Joint Plan of Action. That’s given all of us more confidence as we negotiate this even tougher comprehensive agreement.
In that vein today, we’ve just concluded a meeting of the Joint Commission that was announced when we implemented the Joint Plan of Action. Given it’s the halfway point, we thought it would be an appropriate time to check in on implementation progress, and as I said, the report out of that meeting which I just received is everyone acknowledged that everything was going well. This meeting took place at the experts level, not at the political directors level.
The next step in this process is to begin actually drafting text, which we have all said would happen after this round. This round and the last round was used to review all of the issues and understand each other’s positions at the beginning of this negotiation. I would caution everyone from thinking that a final agreement is imminent or that it will be easy. As we draft, I have no doubt this will be quite difficult at times. And as we’ve always been clear and as we said explicitly when we were negotiating the Joint Plan of Action – and it is even more so for the comprehensive agreement – we will not rush into a bad deal. We just won’t do it. No deal – as Secretary Kerry has said many times, as the President of the United States has said, no deal is better than a bad deal.
So now, we’ll move forward to begin drafting actual language. We’ll meet back here in Vienna at the political director level in May. As always, our experts and political directors will be working in the meantime on all of the technical issues that are a part of these talks. And we are all very focused on that special date, July 20th, because we believe that it should give us sufficient time to reach a comprehensive agreement if an agreement is indeed possible.
"Minister Zarif and I, together with the Political Directors of China, France, Germany, Russia,the United Kingdom and the United States, just finished a third round of talks in our ongoingdiplomatic effort to seek a Comprehensive Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue asenvisaged in the Joint Plan of Action.We would again like to thank the Austrian Foreign Minister and his staff as well as the UnitedNations for their support in hosting these negotiations in Vienna.
Senior-level talks on the Iran nuclear issue resume in Vienna this week amid a generally upbeat mood. The parties are rolling up their sleeves, staffing their teams and getting to grips with key issues.
Long gone are the trying talks of the past: the frustrating spring 2012 meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow during which Iran’s chief negotiator, the dreary Saeed Jalili, began every session with a sanctimonious sermon. President Hassan Rouhani’s team gets right to the point. The negotiating parties still do not have mutual trust, said an insider at a recent IISS workshop, but they have mutual respect.
The issue is no longer whether Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium; it is how much, based on Iran’s practical need for enriched uranium. Questions concerning quantity are inherently negotiable.
Similarly, on the issue of the Arak research reactor, Iran has already agreed, in principle, that the design could be adjusted to reduce the amount of weapons-grade plutonium that could be produced. Lowering the power of what is now designed to be a 40 megawatts (thermal) reactor won’t be enough to satisfy policymakers in key Western capitals. They want the reactor converted to use light water (which is to say, regular water) as a moderator and coolant, though they may be willing to allow heavy water to be used as a reflector. Making use of Iran’s heavy water could be a face-saving compromise. Again, such details are negotiable.
The greatest convergence between the parties is over verification. Since the days of his election campaign, Rouhani has been ready to accept greater transparency. The increased tempo and scope of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections spelled out in the 24 November Joint Plan of Action is one reason I called it a surprisingly good deal.
The comprehensive deal that is supposed to be negotiated by 20 July will require yet more transparency. If the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ever decides to reverse his fatwas against nuclear weapons and to break out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the production of highly enriched uranium would more likely take place at a clandestine facility rather than at a declared site that is visited near-daily by inspectors. This is why the IAEA needs to be able to visit undeclared sites that it has reasonable grounds to suspect.