The US Secretary of State has arrived in Vienna Sunday for talks which appear to be extremely difficult to carry out on time for the July 20 expected deadline. John Kerry was to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad JavadZarif on Sunday, as well as officials from France, Germany and the United Kingdom, taking turns to negotiate, but the first day of talks failed to reach a breakthrough. While France's Laurent Fabius and Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier left Sunday, a few hours after they arrived, John Kerry stayed together with William Hague for more talks.
John Kerry's second day of talks will continue his effort to gauge « Iran's willingness to make the critical choices it needs to make ». John Kerry said « we have some very significant gaps still », and a « potentially lengthy conversation » was expected. Mohammad JavadZarif estimated on his side that “we have made some important headway” but Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi also acknowledged on Sunday the “huge and deep differences” between the two sides.
The November interim agreement between Iran and the « P5+1 » group of powers (The USA, the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia) halted the expansion of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for sanction relief (US$7 billion). Earlier this year, White House officials sounded hopeful about reaching a deal before July 20. But the US government now looks much more pessimistic, and many suggest it will be needed to extend the negotiation – perhaps not by 6 months, as allowed by the interim agreement, but at least some more time will be required.
The main issue is that Iran pushes for a much greater enrichment capability than the US is willing to grant. For the USA, as well as for the other partners, an excessive enrichment capability would allow the Iranians to possibly develop the bomb. A senior US administration official quoted by Time said Iran is demanding an enrichment capability « far beyond their current program », which should have been reduced through the agreement, not increased. Mohammad JavadZarif says however his country « does not see any benefit in developing a nuclear weapon » and will continue to demonstrate its commitment to not developing a nuclear weapons program. John Kerry insisted his purpose was to make sure Iran's nuclear programme is « peaceful ».
Both sides are facing political pressures from hardliners. In Iran some oppose any concession by moderate President Hassan Rouhani. In the USA Republicans and Democrats threatened to scuttle any emerging agreement that would allow Iran to maintain some enrichment capacity. Outside the negotiations, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other rivals of Iran, are extremely wary of seeing it getting closer to the nuclear club.
The Israeli government has decided to start on-ground military operations in Gaza. For days already, the Israeli government had been massing terrestrial forces, thousands of soldiers, along the border. Now Israel seems to be pounding intensely the Gaza Strip, using planes, artillery and ship altogether, in a blitz coordinated with the invasion of Merkava tanks and D9 bulldozers, alike the German “blitzkrieg” strategy during World War 2. Israeli media say one of the main objectives of the ground offensive is to destroy tunnels that could be used to infiltrate militants into Israel. The operation is taking place everywhere in the border. Infantry, artillery, intelligence, airplanes and warships are involved. New reservist troops will be mobilized, according to a Tsahal spokesperson, Moti al Moz.