With less than six weeks to go before Iran and the P5+1 group arrive at the deadline for a comprehensive long-term deal on Iran's nuclear program, it seems nearly impossible to tell how things are going. Pessimism has some experts already promoting avenues for a partial deal, another deadline extension, or an entirely different plan altogether.
On Sunday, Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of intelligence, took to the opinion pages of The Times to implore the United States not to settle for a bad deal. And given the extremely delicate nature of the negotiations and the importance of their outcome, if there's a deal to be had at all, President Obama reportedly has plans to circumvent a congressional vote to approve it.
For a moment, Monday brought some good news. According to Reuters, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report that says Iran "is meeting its commitments" under a short-term deal established last year in which Iran would suspend some of its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
It [the IAEA] said Iran had diluted more than 4,100 kg of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of up to 2 percent down to the level of natural uranium. This was one of the additional steps Iran agreed to undertake when the six-month accord that took effect early this year was extended by four months in July.
Emblematic of the whole shebang, shortly thereafter, another dispatch by the same outlet said that Iran isn't meeting its commitments on matters of nuclear transparency:
Addressing a conference at IAEA headquarters on nuclear safeguards, he [IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano] said the UN agency was not in a position "to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran."
Confused yet? Well, consider the gravity of the context.
The first (positive) report couched the good news as "a finding the West may see as positive ahead of a November deadline for clinching a long-term deal." The second (negative) report suggested "little headway in an inquiry into [Iran's] suspected bomb research."
While this was going on, Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency reported that Iran had extracted major concessions from the United States in the nuclear negotiations, "notable among others being US coming in terms with 4,000 active centrifuges." Meanwhile, an Iranian opposition site offered that the falling price of oil was only making Iran feel the bite of international sanctions even more than before and could push the Iranian regime to strike a deal.
But will it? I'm sure we'll know just as much tomorrow.