The upsurge of Middle East violence in recent days - particularly the latest battlefield successes of the extremist group Islamic State - has tended to overshadow the fact that time is running short, to finalize a comprehensive Iranian nuclear deal. June 30th is the date that Iran - and six world powers including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - set for the completion of that agreement. Its purpose is to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon - in exchange for the lifting of the range of economic sanctions imposed by the world community on Iran because of its nuclear activities.
It was clear after the preliminary agreement reached in April, that there were many sometimes tricky, sometimes complex issues that still needed to be worked out. There have been a few negotiating sessions since, but there is no sign yet that any of the really tough nuts have been cracked.
Perhaps the toughest nut of all concerns the latitude the United Nation s weapons inspectors will be given, to satisfy the world that Iran isn’t cheating.
Obama administration officials have claimed the inspection regime will be the toughest and most obtrusive ever agreed to. But Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said again just a few days ago that Iran would not allow its military sites to be inspected.
The New York Times report these comments are not new, but it means this issue is not yet resolved. Iran says it accepts inspection of all its designated nuclear sites, but not its other military bases.
Another problem is the big six demand that Iran’s nuclear scientists be interviewed by UN experts about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear activities. This remains a highly sensitive issue – as is the fact that from 2010 to 2012, five Iranian scientists were killed in separate incidents, widely believed to be the work of Israeli intelligence. Israel has never commented on these accusations. But Khamenei is adamant - no interviews.
The Times points out that it is not unusual for the Supreme leader to take a harder line in public than his negotiators ultimately accepted in face to face talks. For instance he once insisted that Iran have ten times as many centrifuges than it ultimately accepted in the interim agreement.
But inspections are another matter. And if they can’t come to an arrangement for credible inspections which address the deep rooted suspicions of both sides, there is no doubt that this would be a deal breaker.