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Kerry Warns Iran of Hard Choices Needed for Nuclear Deal

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and THOMAS ERDBRINK
July 5, 2015

VIENNA — Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iran on Sunday that hard choices were still needed to seal a landmark nuclear accord, and that the United States was prepared to walk away if a sound agreement could not be reached.

“We are not yet where we need to be on several of the most difficult issues,” Mr. Kerry said in a statement in front of the Palais Coburg, the Vienna hotel where the talks are being held. “This negotiation could go either way.”

Mr. Kerry’s remarks came two days before a target date for wrapping up the agreement and as foreign ministers from the other world powers involved in the talks are heading here for what is intended to be the homestretch in the long-running negotiations.

Mr. Kerry said it was still possible to reach an agreement by Tuesday, which would enable the Obama administration to submit the deal to Congress this week for a 30-day review period.

Yet in previous rounds, Iranian negotiators have often left major issues unsettled until the final days, either as a tactic to try to squeeze additional concessions or because they have not been able to secure the necessary flexibility from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

Mr. Kerry appeared to be cautioning the Iranians against a last-minute round of brinkmanship.

“We want a good agreement, only a good agreement, and we’re not going to shave anywhere at the margins in order just to get an agreement,” Mr. Kerry said.

“There are plenty of people in the nonproliferation community, nuclear experts, who will look at this,” he added, “and none of us are going to be content to do something that can’t pass scrutiny.”

In an open letter last month, a group of nuclear experts, including several of President Obama’s former advisers, wrote that they could support a prospective agreement only if it had strong provisions on verification and effective constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, and required the Iranians to carry out their obligations before economic sanctions were lifted.

The outstanding issues of the talks in recent days involve what steps would be taken to resolve suspicions about Iran’s past nuclear activities, what constraints would be placed on the development of more efficient types of centrifuges after the first 10 years of an accord, and the precise timing for removing sanctions.

The six world powers negotiating with Iran are the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China. In the past, both sides have had the luxury of deferring some of the unresolved questions for a future round of talks. Now, the negotiators face the challenge of finally completing a comprehensive accord and all of its detailed, technical annexes in a matter of days.

If an accord is not presented to Congress by July 9, the administration would have to decide whether to try to finish it later this summer so it could be submitted for a 60-day review period or whether to back away from the talks.

In an appearance on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Mr. Kerry of rushing to get a deal so that the congressional review period would not be extended to 60 days.

“I urged him to please take their time,” said Mr. Corker, adding that he had spoken to Mr. Kerry by telephone on Saturday. “We have the issues of, are we going to have anytime, anywhere inspections? Will we know what their past military dimensions were? It’s very important.”

On Friday night, Mr. Kerry’s counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, made a public appeal in a YouTube video for a successful conclusion to the talks, and he urged the United States and its negotiating partners to demonstrate more flexibility.

Speaking in English from a balcony at the Vienna hotel, Mr. Zarif said, “We have never been closer to a lasting outcome,” and he hinted at the possibility of Iranian cooperation in fighting the Islamic State if a nuclear accord could be reached.

On Saturday, another high-ranking Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, said on Iranian state television that the prospective accord could be endorsed by the United Nations Security Council as early as this week.

Mr. Araghchi said that the agreement, including its annexes, would be about 80 pages, and that it would not take effect until Iran’s Parliament and the United States Congress approved it, but that it would uphold the principle of speedy sanctions relief.

“If we reach an agreement, the text of the agreement will definitely be published,” Mr. Araghchi said. “But that would not be the day of agreement. The day of agreement would be the day the legal procedures in respective countries have taken their course.”

He also said that it would take two to three months for Iran to scale back its nuclear program in line with the accord. With his comments, Mr. Araghchi appeared to be preparing the Iranian public for a possible deal and laying the groundwork to blame the United States if the negotiations fail.

Mr. Kerry met with Mr. Zarif several times on Sunday. In his comments on Sunday, Mr. Kerry offered his own observation on Mr. Zarif’s YouTube presentation

“While I completely agree with Foreign Minister Zarif that we have never been closer, at this point this negotiation could go either way,” Mr. Kerry said. “If hard choices get made in the next couple of days and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week. But if they are not made, we will not.”

Michael R. Gordon reported from Vienna and Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran.