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Iran Nuclear Negotiators Extend Deadline To Reach Final Agreement


It was supposed to happen by midnight tonight, the deadline for a deal to curb Iran's nuclear program. But as has happened so many times before, the seven parties involved in these talks have called their own bluff. Negotiators in Vienna announced today that the new deadline for a deal is July 7. We're joined now by Robert Einhorn. He's a former adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations and was a member of President Obama's Iran negotiating team. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROBERT EINHORN: Thank you, Rachel, glad to be here.

MARTIN: Another deadline has come and gone. What does it mean at this stage of the game?

EINHORN: Well, it means they're having a tough time breaking through on some of the toughest issues. In any endgame in negotiations, the toughest issues are the last ones, and I think they're finding out that in this case.

MARTIN: So let's walk through some of these more contentious last issues. Last week, you and 18 other foreign policy experts signed a joint statement outlining what you believed to be the issues that have to be resolved before the U.S. signs onto a deal. You say that there needs to be an honest reckoning with Iran's past behavior and possible efforts to militarize its nuclear program. Why look backwards? Why do you think this is so important?

EINHORN: Well, as Secretary Kerry has pointed out, the most important thing is having confidence about the future, but in order to have that confidence, you have to know something about the past. We're not going to get a complete confession from the Iranians. I think everyone recognized that. They're not going to incriminate themselves by saying they were involved in nuclear weapons development program. But we need to know more, and so far the Iranians have been reluctant.

MARTIN: Now that Iran is at the negotiating table, is it the moment to push them on other issues that aren't related to the nuclear program? For instance, their relationship with Hamas and Hezbollah or the several Americans who are currently being held by Iran, or do you just set those issues aside for another moment?

EINHORN: We shouldn't set them aside. We should work on them concurrently, but we need to do this separately and not include them as part of the nuclear deal.

MARTIN: And what happens practically speaking if these many months of intense negotiations does not result in a deal?

EINHORN: Well, if talks break down, what that will mean is that the Iranian nuclear program, which has been frozen for about two years now, will be unfrozen. And Iran will ratchet up its nuclear infrastructure very quickly, getting it much closer to a short breakout time to a nuclear weapon. The U.S. in turn will try to ratchet up its international sanctions, and depending on who is perceived to be to blame, we may or may not be able to get international support for these sanctions.

MARTIN: Setting aside this eleventh hour hesitancy that we're seeing right now, are you still optimistic that a deal can be reached?

EINHORN: I think there's a greater than even possibility that there will be a deal, in large part because the Iranians really do need a deal. They're suffering under economic sanctions, and reasonable Iranians know that unless there's an agreement and unless sanctions are lifted, it will be impossible to correct their economy. So they have strong incentives, but I think one of the biggest impediments to an agreement at this point is that Iran's senior decision maker, Supreme Leader Khamenei, has staked out very strong public positions as recently as last week, which are at variance with what his own Iranian nuclear negotiators had earlier concluded. So, in other words, Iran is at least publicly backtracking from what it earlier had agreed to. I think it's essential if there's to be an agreement for Iran to return to the positions already agreed and to show flexibility on the remaining issues. If they don't do that, there's not going to be a deal.

MARTIN: Robert Einhorn is a former adviser to the U.S. State Department on nuclear nonproliferation. He's now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thanks so much.

EINHORN: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.