The news from Iran on Sunday morning was that a deal with Western powers by today’s midnight deadline was “impossible”.By Sunday afternoon, Iranian news agencies were saying officials were misquoted and anything was possible if the West is willing to show more flexibility.
A few hours later, the US announced that Secretary of State John Kerry would have a dinner meeting with the lead negotiator for the P5+1, Catherine Ashton, as well as European foreign ministers, and things looked good.
That, in a nutshell, is the constantly changing Vienna games – where momentum swings in a second and nobody really knows anything for sure for very long.
It’s not surprising. Previous rounds of negotiations over the past year have been just as full of twists and turns and eleventh hour announcements.
So what’s the likelihood of a deal by deadline day? Nobody can be sure (not even the main players at this point) but sources close to the negotiations say there is too much at risk, economically and politically, for these talks to fail and some sort of deal will emerge in the next two days.
The American administration and the Iranians realise the window of opportunity for a breakthrough is quickly closing and it’s now or never. By January, the US Congress will be split with a Republican Senate pushing for new sanctions.
If Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has nothing to show for Iran’s compliance this past year with the Joint Plan of Action, hardliners will pounce on his failure to make good on one of his biggest promises to the Iranian people – a lifting of sanctions that are strangling the economy.
Each player has a stake in the outcome and statesmen far beyond the region are holding their breath. In reality, a lot has been achieved in the past year in terms of mending ties between Iran and the US – the very fact that Iranian and American diplomats are posing for pictures with big smiles and handshakes is a sign of progress that shouldn’t be overlooked.
For Iran, the fact that the P5+1 are acknowledging its right to enrich uranium is a victory of sorts. Meanwhile US negotiators have (for now) managed to get Iran to stop enrichment over 5% and give up some of its stockpile, as well as allowing monitors in to some of their facilities.
A deal would signal the end to over 30 years of conflict and animosity between Iran and the West and blow up existing alliances in the Middle East. A whole new market would emerge for investors and Iran would be able to start exporting its oil, driving down prices.
A breakdown in the talks meanwhile would do the exact opposite and open up the possibility of a military confrontation while reversing the gains of the last year. The line between war and peace is thin and complex, and it’s all being determined at the negotiating tables in capitals around the world.
With stakes like these there’s no such thing as a sure bet and so the world’s media, like everyone else, waits and wonders.