The P5+1 Talks Have Entered the Twilight Zone

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

Charges, counter charges, screaming matches, if Rod Serling was alive today he would be saying the P5+1 negotiations have entered the Twilight Zone. Early Thursday morning there were reports of screaming matches between John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that were so loud they could be heard throughout the hotel.  That was followed by reports that an agreement was so close that one of Iran’s main Twitter PR accounts, @NuclearTalks, was putting out a stream of tweets about an impending ceremony.

But things quickly turned sour again.

Thursday afternoon Kerry gave a statement to the press that was really a message to Iran that he was willing to keep negotiating but if they don’t start making some tough decisions he was ready to walk.

But let me assure you we would not be here continuing to negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. We’re here because we believe we are making real progress toward a comprehensive deal. But as I have said many times and as I discussed with President Obama last night, we are not going to sit at the negotiating table forever…We know that difficult decisions don’t become easier over time, and one way or the other those decisions must be taken very soon.

On the other hand the Iranian side said the Americans were being selfish and complained:

“While the Iranian team is showing flexibility, the Americans are refusing to accept Iran’s obvious right, particularly on sanctions, This is blocking a deal between the Islamic state and the six major powers, a source told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency on Thursday”

The latest sanctions battle is a result of Iran’s new demand that the UN arms embargo, which was imposed because of Iran’s human rights violations, be removed along with the sanctions imposed because of the nuclear program. In a rare display of backbone, the American negotiators said no.

Not unexpectedly Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took the Iranian side:

“Our Western partners, who did not support a draft resolution entirely acceptable to the other parties, are at fault, not Iran,” he tweeted.

Right now things in Vienna are a mess.  One of my contacts who is in Vienna observing the talks sent this graphic observation Thursday evening:

It’s a complete shit storm right now. I mean, just a total complete shit storm. The Iranians are telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are trying to blow up the talks. The Americans don’t quite now what the hell is going on–it’s surreal. Something moved early in the morning. The Iranians say the Americans withdrew a proposal. The Americans are being quiet, but are very quietly suggested Khamenei may not be willing to give the final thumbs up.

What’s going on? The U.S. side may be totally correct that the Supreme Leader may be unwilling to pull the trigger. But the other possibility is that the White House facing pressure because of the reports of concessions is walking back from previous positions. The day before this craziness, President Obama had conferred with the U.S. negotiating team through a secure video call perhaps he ordered the negotiators to retreated from from their retreat.

Don’t be surprised if talks go on hiatus for a few weeks. Kerry no longer has an incentive to rush things a point he made during his Thursday statement. The reason is the deadline that would have limited congress to thirty days of discussion about any treaty expired at noon on Thursday, now congress has sixty days.