- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Obama administration repeated its threats Thursday to walk away from nuclear talks with Iran, suggesting that Secretary of State John F. Kerry is taking a hard line against 11th-hour Iranian demands — including Tehran’s desire for an end to U.N. sanctions on its ballistic missile program as part of any final accord.

“We are not going to sit at the negotiating table forever,” Mr. Kerry told reporters in Vienna, briefly emerging from marathon talks that have already blown through two earlier deadlines for a deal this month. “If the tough decisions don’t get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process.”

At the same time, however, Mr. Kerry said he and his negotiating partners in the talks — a group that includes Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — will continue the talks for now the two sides are “making real progress” toward a deal.

Mr. Kerry and other diplomats signaled the talks are likely miss the latest extended deadline for a deal on Friday and carry on at least into the weekend.

The current round has been extended twice since June 27 — as has temporary sanctions relief for Iran as part of an April interim deal that the ongoing talks are meant to complete.

There are political implications for the Obama administration as the talks drag on, as Congress will now have more time to weigh and vote on any final accord. Had a deal been drafted and sent to lawmakers Thursday, their review period would have been 30 days. Now, it jumps to 60 days.

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But Mr. Kerry appeared unworried on Thursday. “If, in the end, we are able to reach a deal, it has to be one that can withstand the test of time,” he said. “It is not a test of a matter of days or weeks or months, it’s a test for decades.”

Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is peaceful, while the U.S. and its European allies have accused Tehran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of U.N. regulations.

Officials have cited a range of issues holding up a final accord to limit the scope of Iran’s program and open international inspection in exchange for sanctions relief, including the pace of sanctions relief for Tehran and the access of international inspectors to suspect sites inside Iran.

But another issue that popped up suddenly this week was an Iranian demand that U.N. sanctions blocking Tehran from buying ballistic missiles also be lifted as part of a final deal. Officials close to the talks say Iranian negotiators began making the demand Monday, but the U.S. and its allies have so far refused to budge.

Iran’s government-run Fars news service posted a story suggesting Iran’s negotiators may be willing to drop the issue.

Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi, Tehran’s deputy lead negotiator in the nuclear talks, told Fars that international arms embargoes have been a blessing in disguise by promoting Iran’s domestic defense and weapons production industries.

“Thus,” Mr. Araqchi said, “the arms embargoes themselves are not so much important to Iran, but the point is that no sanctions should be kept if there is to be a deal with Iran.”

The interim agreement reached in April said that all past U.N. Security Council resolutions “on the Iran nuclear issue” would be lifted, but made no explicit reference to the 2007 arms embargo. With regard to other sanctions, the interim agreement said U.S. and EU “nuclear-related sanctions” would be “suspended” after the IAEA verifies “that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.”

But there were some signs on Thursday that a breakthrough may be imminent.

At an economic summit in Russia, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said his nation was preparing for a “post-sanctions” era.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow voiced optimism and said he is preparing to return to Vienna. And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he would remain in the Austrian capital for negotiations into Friday morning.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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