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World

Negotiators Continue Talks On Iran's Nuclear Program Past Deadline

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Another large issue looming in the Middle East is whether Iran is capable of building nuclear weapons. That's the subject of ongoing talks in Vienna. A deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran was set for tonight. There are new developments on important issues, but negotiators say they need at least a couple more days. A deal would impose limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Vienna. And Peter, what did officials there have to say about missing another one of these self-imposed deadlines?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, basically, they said this is hard stuff. Look, it's very complicated, but we are still getting closer. And we think we're making enough progress to justify a continuing. As officials have said, this is the final deal. It's going to last a very long time. They have to get every detail right. They've got to think of all kinds of possible contingencies, and they've got to build something that's going to last for many years. So they figure they should talk for a couple more days and maybe more. Who knows?

MCEVERS: The U.S. Congress has passed a law requiring that it review any deal the Obama administration makes and has set a deadline for Thursday. Will they make that?

KENYON: Well, that's the day Congress wants a deal delivered on Capitol Hill in their hands, and they have 30 days to review it. But if the administration misses the Thursday deadline, they get 60 days to review it. That's not pleasant for the White House. But a senior U.S. official today said they might or might not finish in that amount of time, but the main thing is to get the right deal. That's much more important than any single deadline. They also, by the way, extended this interim agreement that has been in effect for quite a while now, and that's already restricting Iran's nuclear program.

MCEVERS: One of the sticking points involves the United Nations and an arms embargo against Iran. Why is that issue resurfacing now?

KENYON: Well, this is something that has been bothering the Iranians for years. Under the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the U.N. Security Council slapped several nuclear-related sanctions - resolutions on them. It includes limits on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. And one of Iran's goals in these talks is to get out from under these U.N. restrictions. Now, U.S. officials say Iran may have a right to conventional weapons and missiles, but the world is worried about any missiles that might be capable, say, of delivering a nuclear weapon. So what's likely to happen is if they do get a deal, the Security Council will have to write a new resolution. And they've got all five permanent members here, so they've already been working on it. And this will replace those old resolutions. And the big question that they can't quite finish yet is which sanctions will stay on and which will end.

MCEVERS: So for the U.S. and its allies, I mean, they want to insure that U.N. inspectors will continue to have broad access to Iranian sites, right? What are you hearing about that?

KENYON: Well, that is a very big issue and it has been quite contentious. A U.S. official today refused, as always, to go into the details, but in many ways, sounded generally positive on that issue. That seemed a bit new, I have to say. The official says the U.S. needs to be satisfied that the U.N. inspectors will have the access they need, and they believe that will happen in this deal. Again, we don't know the details yet, and that could be where the devils lie. But the suggestion, at least today, is that this access issue can be resolved.

MCEVERS: So what's your sense from talking to people? Could these talks keep going through the summer and even beyond?

KENYON: Well, they could. When Secretary of State John Kerry said the other day this could go either, there were actually three options - success now, a collapse completely or another longer-term extension. All are still possible, but negotiators say the key is whether they keep on making progress. If that progress stops, there's going to come a point when it doesn't make sense to keep going.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon at the nuclear talks in Vienna. Thanks so much, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.