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P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert, March 21
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Authored by Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball on March 21, 2015

Close But ...

Iran and the P5+1 agreed yesterday to take a short break and resume talks on Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland after the two sides failed to bridge gaps on key remaining issues.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his team headed back to Tehran, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel first to London to meet with the British, French, and German foreign ministers before returning to Washington.

The break will give the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) negotiators time to consult and coordinate their positions, which may be necessary after reported rifts, particularly between France and its negotiating partners on the sequence of sanctions relief. On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama also called French President Francois Hollande to discuss the nuclear talks.

In remarks on Saturday in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani struck a positive note. He said: "There is nothing that cannot be resolved."

Regarding the talks Lausanne, he said, "shared points of view emerged in some of the areas where there had been a difference of opinion" that could become "a foundation for a final agreement," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Before departing for London, Kerry said the P5+1 are "united" in their nuclear talks with Iran. "I emphasize: We are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve and our determination to ensure that Iran's program is entirely peaceful."

He added, "[F]undamental decisions have to be made... they need to be made now."

Resumption of the negotiations on March 25 will give the parties six days to agree on framework deal before the March 31 target date for completing this stage of the negotiations. Negotiators will then have until June 30 to work out the technical annexes for implementation. -

--KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy, reporting from Lausanne, and DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, from Washington

Our Assessment

The conclusion of a framework agreement for a "win-win" comprehensive P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal is very much within reach by the end of March.

Negotiators have made substantial progress, particularly on finding solutions on the nuclear elements of the agreement, since the November 2014 extension. See: "Time to Close the Iran Deal." 

Research and development on advanced centrifuge machines remains the most significant hurdle on the nuclear side, but sources indicate that this issue is "resolvable."

But getting to "yes" on the details of the limits on the nuclear side clearly depends on squaring the circle on how to revise and update the UN Security Council resolutions relating to Iran's nuclear program and international sanctions.

In London today, the P5+1 need to ensure that their positions going into the next round of talks are in sync, and each of them needs to refrain from an "all or nothing" approach.

There is strong political will on both sides to reach a deal. Iran and the P5+1 know that a comprehensive deal is the only way to solve this impasse.

Norwuz Message

Support for a good nuclear deal featured prominently in President Barack Obama's Norwuz remarks. Norwuz, the Persian New Year, was celebrated yesterday. Obama released a video message on Thursday to mark the holiday.

Obama said

This year, we have the best opportunity in decades to pursue a different future between our countries.  Just over a year ago, we reached an initial understanding regarding Iran's nuclear program.  And both sides have kept our commitments.  Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and even rolled it back in some areas.  The international community, including the United States, has provided Iran with some relief from sanctions.  Now, our diplomats-and our scientists-are engaged in negotiations in the hopes of finding a comprehensive solution that resolves the world's concerns with Iran's nuclear program.

The days and weeks ahead will be critical.  Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remain.  And there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution.  My message to you-the people of Iran-is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek. 

As I have said many times before, I believe that our countries should be able to resolve this issue peacefully, with diplomacy.  Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has said that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon.  Together with the international community, the United States has said that Iran should have access to peaceful nuclear energy, consistent with Iran's international obligations.  So there is a way for Iran-if it is willing to take meaningful, verifiable steps-to assure the world that its nuclear program is, in fact, for peaceful purposes only.
Potential Senate Action Looms

After saying he wanted to move forward with a vote in his committee on a controversial bill (S.615, the "Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015") that would delay implementation of any P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran until Congress can review and vote to possibly block its implementation, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) agreed last Thursday with Democrats on his committee to delay any action until at least mid-April.

Key Senate Democrats said that advancing the legislation would have a "profoundly negative impact" on the ongoing nuclear negotiations. The legislation has drawn a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

For more analysis on S.615 and why it could undermine, if not kill, a P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal see: "Senate Bill Hurts Ability to Negotiate with Iran," by Daryl Kimball and Greg Thielmann in The Virginian-Pilot, March 20, 2015. 

Looking Ahead ...

March 24 - Date by which many in Congress believe (incorrectly) the two sides must conclude a political framework agreement. After this date, key committees in the U.S. Senate may act on legislation relating to the issue that President Obama has threatened to veto.

March 25 - Resumption of P5+1 talks, Lausanne. 

March 26 - Special Press Conference: P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Negotiations" in Washington, D.C. Speakers will be: Robert Einhorn, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Kelsey Davenport, Dylan Williams, Trita Parsi, Kate Gould, and Daryl Kimball (moderator). RSVP today!

End of March 2015 - Target date set by Iran and the P5+1 to reach a political framework agreement.

June 30, 2015 - Deadline for Iran and the P5+1 to complete the technical annexes for a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.

Kelsey Davenport and Daryl G. Kimball