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Kerry Meets Iranian Foreign Minister Amid Reports of Eroding Western Sanctions, Nuke Talks Deadlock

Major outlets and wires focused Wednesday on the dynamics of talks between the P5+1 global powers and Iran – per Agence France-Presse (AFP), Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to further discuss the looming nuclear talks deadline:

“We only have 40 days left to the deadline and… none of the negotiators find (an) extension of talks appropriate,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in Vienna, a day after six hours of intense talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“We share this view… and we think there is no need to even think about it,” Zarif said in the Austrian capital, quoted by the state televison’s website.

The outlet focused among other things on a set of Iranian “red lines,” reemphasized last weekend by country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanding among other things that the Islamic republic be allowed to expand its uranium enrichment capacity by roughly 19-fold. The explicit position was first laid out by Khamenei last July, and runs opposite to the P5+1’s longstanding demand – codified in half a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions and demanded by congressional legislation – that Iran in fact roll back its uranium program.

The Associated Press (AP) meanwhile published an extensive backgrounder on the status of the talks. The wire opened its section on “What Might An Agreement Look Like” by noting that Iran had already last November “won tacit acceptance of its biggest priority: recognition of its right to enrich uranium” despite the U.S. and its partners having spent “years… demanding an end to all such activity.” The AP noted a major shift in the West’s approach to Iran’s nuclear position:

Iran has won tacit acceptance of its biggest priority: recognition of its right to enrich uranium.

After years of demanding an end to all such activity, the U.S. and its partners now speak only of limiting the amount of centrifuges Iran can have in operation and the amount of material Iran can stockpile for enrichment. A compromise could be to cut the number of centrifuges in half from their current level of about 9,000. Other technical safeguards also are being considered.

Worries have coalesced in recent weeks that Washington may lack sufficient leverage to extract meaningful concessions even under those more modest standards, spurred by a month of new indicators suggesting that the sanctions regime pressuring Tehran may be crumbling in the aftermath of relief provided by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA).

The Obama administration had been vocal last winter in declaring that the core sanctions regime would hold despite the partial relief provided by the JPA, and that congressional efforts to impose pressure were both unhelpful and unnecessary. The controversy saw heated rhetoric – advocates of additional pressure were among other things branded warmongers by figures linked to the White House – and lawmakers may lack sympathy for the administration if it turns out that the Iranians refuse to accept a deal that significantly slashes their nuclear program.

[Photo: PressTV News Videos / YouTube]