Kerry Cites Mixed Progress as Iran Nuke Deal Nears Deadline

Nuclear talks nearing July 20 deadline as Iran's minister shares options, but Kerry says 'gaps remain.'

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media after closed-door nuclear talks on Iran in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

Intense negotiations with Iran have yielded "tangible progress," Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday, but significant gaps remain ahead of a July 20 target date for a deal meant to put firm curbs on Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for an end to sanctions.

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Secretary of State John Kerry has mixed thoughts about efforts to limit Iran's ability to make a nuclear weapon. The top diplomat cited “gaps” but also hopes for progress when he met for multinational negotiations with Iran to barter a deal for the Islamic state to limit its nuclear program as the July 20 deadline looms with the aim of preventing that nation from developing an atomic weapon.

Kerry returns to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to discuss with the Obama administration about the results of the talks, which included foreign ministers of the U.K., France, Germany and Iran in Vienna. The parties agreed to keep the discussions private, but Kerry spoke briefly with reporters Sunday when the talks began.

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“We have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress,” Kerry said. “It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon, that their program is peaceful. That’s what we’re here to try to achieve and I hope we can make some progress.”

China and Russia have also been involved with the negotiations but were not present in Vienna for the talks. The negotiations have an artificial deadline set by the parties for July 20, which may be extended if the parties agree. That may be the next move if a compromise cannot be reached, which would bring harsh criticism of the Obama administration ahead of the 2014 elections from Republicans including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is skeptical of efforts to negotiate with Iran.

While the talks are intended to take place behind closed doors, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told The New York Times that his nation may limit its capacity to produce nuclear fuel for perhaps three to seven years in exchange for the chance to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes. This seems to be a tactic that will make it harder for the U.S. to walk away from a possible deal. The U.S. has called for limits of at least a decade on Iran’s nuclear fuel development, after which the nation would produce fuel as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

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The fear of allowing Iran to retain some nuclear capacity is that it may in the future break its promises and increase development of fuel that could be used to make an atomic weapon.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has signaled he is more open to negotiating with the West than his more conservative predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The terms of this deal that affect Iran’s nuclear program and economic sanctions will determine Rouhani’s political future and chances at implementing possible reforms to the country, including possible loosening of free speech. The nuclear deal could also be a watershed moment that could normalize relations between the U.S. and Iran, which have not had diplomatic ties since 1979.