Negotiators from Iran, the five members of the UN Security Council, Germany and the EU continued meeting at a furious pace into early Tuesday morning in hopes of finalizing an agreement that would have Tehran curb its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.
Sources close to the talks have told the media that negotiating teams on all sides are fatigued but determined to reach a deal today.
There are no iron-clad deadlines now. Those have come and gone several times over. The focus now is that a comprehensive deal is within reach, perhaps closer than ever during the laborious back-and-forth talks that began in November 2013.
Diplomats close to the talks said that the 100-page agreement was meant to be signed on Monday, but the timing of the removal of the arms embargo emerged as a critical issue dividing the negotiating teams.
UN Security Council members China and Russia back Iran’s demand that the embargo be lifted as soon as the deal is signed.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that it had seen a draft agreement which included intrusive international weapons inspections of Iran’s nuclear and military facilities.
The inspections would be unimpeded and happen “anywhere, anytime”. Iranian scientists would also be interviewed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which will be tasked with the inspections, would under the provisions of the draft agreement have to produce a report of Iran’s nuclear activities toward the end of the year.
But an unnamed Iranian official told his country’s Fars news agency that military sites are off-limits.
In the meantime, the US State Department has told the media that Iran will “freeze” its nuclear program – which it says is for peaceful purposes – for 10 years.
During this time, it will reduce its nuclear centrifuges (needed to produce fissile material for an atomic bomb) from 19,000 to 6,000.
The centrifuges would hold no fissile material, however.
An earlier tentative deal in April had stated that the number of centrifuges would be limited to 1,000; it appears that Iran has won some concessions in that regard.
Iran would also have to limit the amount of plutonium it produces in its nuclear reactors.
If a deal is signed today, both Iran and the US will likely announce that the talks produced a historic agreement.
But Washington is unlikely to remove Iran from the list of states which harbor terrorism.
And, as one Iranian official announced last week, the enmity between the two countries is unlikely to end soon.
For US President Barack Obama, a deal which sees Iran curb its nuclear program will be one of the hallmarks of his two-term presidency (restored relations with Cuba is another).
But critics at home and abroad say that Obama has conceded too much to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There are fears among his political allies in Washington that there could be a backlash against the deal in Congress.
A Republican-led Senate – and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – is likely to grill any deal with Tehran.
The deal that emerges from Vienna will be open to 60 days of Congressional scrutiny before it can be finalized. The US cannot move to remove sanctions until then.
Obama has previously said that he will not allow an agreement to be derailed and would veto any new sanctions against Iran suggested by Congress.
For Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, removing crippling sanctions is an absolute necessity – Iran has been anticipating this move since November 2013.
But Rouhani must also maintain some semblance of domestic nuclear research in a bid to calm hardliners.
Firas Al-Atraqchi with inputs from Agencies for The BRICS Post