After a week of intense closed-door negotiations between Iran and six world powers in Switzerland, negotiators announced that they had extended the deadline for a nuclear agreement—initially Tuesday at midnight—by one day. The purpose of the March 31 deadline was to create an outline with which start the next phase of negotiations, which would hopefully be completed by June 30, when a year-long agreement expires. The May 31 deadline was also a benchmark of sorts: If establishing even the basic outline by then wasn’t feasible, the success of the rest of the process would be in jeopardy.
The AP reports that representatives from the nations present—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—expressed enough confidence in the negotiations thus far to give it another day.
In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested that talks meant to produce an outline that would allow the sides to continue negotiations until the June 30 final deadline had not bridged all gaps. He said the sides were working to produce a text with few specifics, accompanied by documents outlining areas where further talks were needed
“If we are making progress toward the finish line, then we should keep going,” he said.
The main issues—or hurdles, as they’re being euphemistically called—that remain are weapons stockpiles, sanctions (which Iran wants lifted right away), and an answer as to the realistic amount of time it would take Iran to produce a bomb. While decisions about stockpile specifics will likely be shelved for the June deadline, disagreement over more immediate concerns like sanctions could derail the entire process.
Still, if negotiators do come up with an outline by Wednesday, it likely won’t be detailed enough to cause much of a reaction—or answer many questions. As the New York Times points out, “Any accord that is reached will be, by design, an interim instrument that might be devoid of some specifics that the United States Congress, Israel, Arab states, and Iran’s military and hard-liners have been worried about.”
Why might anyone be worried, especially Israel? Iran Revolutionary Guard Basij militia commander Mohammad Reza Naqdi announced that destroying Israel—or, as he put it, “erasing Israel off the map”—remained “nonnegotiable.”
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Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.