VIENNA – As the clock ticks towards a – possible? – Iran nuclear deal, sources very close to Iranian negotiators expressed to Asia Times their frustration about American negotiators; they seem not to be prepared, yet, to make a clear choice between keeping some UN Security Council sanctions and getting an agreement.

Asia Times has also learned that the major – extremely contentious – point at the negotiating table concerns the operation of the Joint Commission dispute resolution mechanism. None of the P5+1 players want this to be leaked – yet.

As for an overview of the status of negotiations, Iranian officials are cautious; “Still undecided.” A good sign is that the general language on how sanctions are to be lifted, including the “simultaneous and parallel” principle, is already decided. The negotiations advancing towards this make or break weekend are now focused on “operational details”.

Still, there are serious divisions within the P5+1, especially over key aspects of what the UN Security Council should be doing; on the complex mechanism through which sanctions would be lifted; and on access – the famous “verification” regime. That leads Iranian negotiators to a quirky formulation; “We can say with authority that they have to spend more time negotiating among themselves than negotiating with us.” At the same time the Iranians acknowledge the problems faced by the Obama administration; “They have to go through so many difficult channels.”

Over the past few days, stonewalling by the U.S. side has run – in parallel — with anti-deal lobby machinations now introducing Divide and Rule inside the Iranian political decision system, pitting factions against each other.

Every diplomat in Vienna knows that every single day with a deal in limbo is a perfect day for the anti-deal lobby, be it in Washington, Tehran, Tel Aviv or Riyadh.

The word in Washington is all over sunny Vienna – mixing with music students playing Mozart outside of the Staatsoper; what must be done to avoid the wrath of the powerful Beltway anti-deal lobby. Iranian-Americans openly comment, “there is so much money available to undermine the deal.”

On the key access issue, even though the 24-day period for resolving an access to a particular site inside Iran was already agreed at by the Lausanne framework, French Foreign Minister Fabius has spun it as “Iran wants 24 days” — making it look like this was a new demand by Iran to change the framework agreement.

That is entirely false. Well, Fabius is not exactly Talleyrand. On Thursday, he came up with the fabulously vapid French rhetorical formula of a deal based on “constructive robustness.” What a pity Karl Kraus is not alive to write a Last Days of Self-Important Mankind.

Robert Musil to the rescue

Iranian negotiators consider that IAEA head Yukiya Amano had a “good visit” to Tehran.

They are now breaking it all down as two different approaches in trying to resolve the ultra-contentious issue of access; the “access-based approach,” based on a list of people and places the IAEA wants to interview/visit, or an “issues-base approach.”

The US government, during the negotiations, had proposed a list of 18 scientists to be screened/interviewed. Iran said no. “So now we are going back to the issues-based approach,” says an Iranian negotiator.

“The problem with that is the access approach had objective criteria for lifting sanctions. In the issues-based approach, the IAEA gets to make qualitative judgments. We don’t want the IAEA to be making qualitative decisions.” That breaks it down to virtually no one in the Global South entirely trusting the highly politicized IAEA.

On the by now legendary issue of “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of the nuclear program – or Iran being asked to prove a negative – the Lausanne framework contained language on “an agreed set of measures” (on PMD) to allow the lifting of sanctions. This is the language that is still being negotiated.

Here’s the US version. Or at least, was the U.S. version. As the State Department itself admits, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif received a select group of four independent journalists, including this correspondent, for a no-holds-barred conversation of almost an hour and a half this past Tuesday. There was a subsequent meeting on Thursday. All the previous points were touched upon, in detail.

Zarif – although immensely tired – exhales an almost Buddhist vibe; he even took time to appear at the balcony of the Palais Coburg in a cheerful mood (“I want to enjoy the sun”). The message, to a global audience, could not be more powerful. What about John Kerry? Is he ready to step up his game, or just remain a pale shadow of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities?

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