VIENNA—Nuclear negotiations between Iran and Western nations are likely to be extended beyond Monday's deadline, according to Iranian officials who said that it would be "impossible" in ink a final pact before Nov. 24.
While U.S. official have yet to brief reporters in any capacity, Iranian diplomats have been making comments that highlight the substantial differences that remain between Tehran and the West as the clock ticks down.
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"Considering the short time left until the deadline and number of issues that needed to be discussed and resolved, it is impossible to reach a final and comprehensive deal by Nov. 24," a senior Iranian official involved in the talks was quoted as telling the country's state-controlled media on Sunday.
However, other anonymous Iranian diplomats have avoided using the term "extension," claiming instead that a framework for an agreement could be reached before Monday's deadline, a scenario that would also lead to further negotiations beyond the formal deadline as a final deal is reached.
Secretary of State John Kerry remained locked behind closed doors with his Iranian and European counterparts Sunday afternoon, and is scheduled to meet later in the day with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal "to update him on the negotiations," according to a senior State Department official.
Iran is pushing to retain significant portions of its domestic enrichment program, while the West is working to significantly limit Tehran's abilities, a discussion that has become the key sticking point, according to sources.
The sides are "struggling" to reach a consensus on a framework that would lead to a final deal, according to one source in Vienna familiar with the talks. All parties are anxious to reach "some kind of agreement," even if it is just another interim accord similar to the one signed last year.
The "sense is they will try to announce an agreement to continue talking along the lines of the Geneva agreement" that went into effect in January, according to the source.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told the Washington Free Beacon that he senses a "continuing desperation on the part of the Obama administration to reach a deal."
"By contrast, however worried Tehran is, its negotiators are showing no such signs," Bolton said, speculating that an extension is the most likely outcome.
"If it [the extension] is short, that is the most worrying because it will show that Obama and Kerry still want a deal more than they should," Bolton explained. "A longer extension—to Jan. 20 for example, one year after the date that the Joint Plan of Action of Nov. 24, 2013, actually took effect—is another possibility."
Michael Doran, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and senior director at the National Security Council (NSC) during the George W. Bush administration, said that an extension of the interim deal "was always the most likely scenario."
A final deal will only be reached if the Obama administration ratchets up the economic pressure on Iran, said Doran, currently a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute.
"The only way that a lasting deal will ever be reached is if Obama stands [Iranian Ayatollah] Khamenei before a very stark choice: Come to a compromise with the international community or face devastating economic consequences—or worse," he said.
Instead, "the president is offering the Khamenei a third option: interminable negotiations," Doran explained. "The Obama administration claims that this is an acceptable option because so long as Iran is talking its nuclear program is frozen. But that is false."
Iran has been making continued progress on its research work into advanced centrifuges, which are capable of more quickly enriching uranium, Doran said.
Furthermore, "we know nothing about the military dimensions of a nuclear program that, we must assume, are ongoing in secret," he added. "So under the guise of diplomatic progress, Iran's program proceeds apace."
As talks unfold in Vienna, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been lobbying allies to reject a bad deal with Iran.
"We are holding discussions with the representatives of other major powers and are presenting them with a vigorous position to the effect that Iran must not be allowed to be determined as a nuclear threshold state," Netanyahu said on Sunday in remarks made before his cabinet.
"There is no reason why it should be left with thousands of centrifuges that could enable it to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in a short time," Netanyahu said. "Neither is there any reason why Iran should continue to develop intercontinental missiles, which could carry nuclear warheads, and thereby threaten the entire world. Therefore, no agreement at all would be preferable to a bad agreement that would endanger Israel, the Middle East, and all of humanity."
Michael Ledeen, a foreign policy analyst and historian, warned that the Iranian cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith.
"Khamenei does not want a deal. He wants us dead or dominated," Ledeen said.