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Iran, U.S. Agree to Postpone Nuclear Deal Until Late November

Iran, U.S. Agree to Postpone Nuclear Deal Until Late November

The United States, Iran, and five other major powers said late Friday that they would extend the high-stakes talks over Iran’s nuclear program for four months while negotiators try to close what both sides acknowledge to be major divides over several issues.

Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries — the United States, Britain, Russia, France, China, and Germany — signed a deal in Geneva last November that effectively froze Iran’s uranium enrichment program in exchange for a modest loosening of the West’s punishing economic sanctions on Tehran. The two sides set a July 20 deadline for striking a permanent deal.

It has become clear for weeks that the deadline will not be met and that an extension is likely; the Obama administration and the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have both invested so much time and political capital that neither would want to walk away from the negotiating table and fully concede that the efforts had failed.

Obama administration officials insist that the talks have made major progress that justify giving negotiators until November to pursue a final deal. In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time."

Still, Kerry and other administration officials acknowledge that major gaps remain. Iran, according to a new proposal put forth by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, would be willing to maintain the current near-total freeze on its uranium enrichment program for seven years but then wants the ability to resume larger-scale enrichment. The United States wants Iran to permanently dismantle major parts of its nuclear infrastructure and accept long-term limits on the amounts of uranium it can enrich.

It’s far from clear those gaps can be bridged, but both sides have apparently concluded that it’s worth the attempt, at least for four months. Come November, it will be clear if that optimism was justified.