Vast differences between Iran and the six-nation coalition seeking to dismantle the Islamic republic’s nuclear program may lead to another short-term deal — and that could renew criticism that Iran is stalling and energize the push in Congress for tougher sanctions even if they endanger negotiations.
Such a dilemma awaits the resumption of face-to-face talks set for next month. The six-month agreement achieved last November went into effect on Monday. The deal froze key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing some trade and financial penalties.
The agreement included a provision to renew the short-term accord for a period of time that would have to be agreed to by all parties — Iran as well as the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — and aimed to clear the way for broader negotiations on the thorniest aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.
The talks could crumble if Iran violates the terms of the agreement or if the parties make no progress. Another extension would allow Iran to reap billions of dollars in eased economic sanctions while still refining its nuclear technology. But analysts say that may be the only feasible outcome.
“I think it’s extremely unlikely that it will be possible to reach a comprehensive agreement in the next six months,” said Gary Samore, who until last year was Obama’s top arms control adviser. “We’re in for a rolling series of extensions.”
It’s not clear what the U.S. and its coalition partners would do if a comprehensive agreement isn’t reached in six months. U.S. officials are meeting with their counterparts in the so-called P5+1 to plot strategy for the February meetings.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told The Associated Press on Thursday that the coalition’s priority is to reach a big deal and do so quickly.
“We are not going to go through a succession of interim deals,” Nadal said. He added that the push in Congress for tougher sanctions against Iran “increases the pressure.”
The White House has so far been able to hold off a Senate vote on a sanctions bill, arguing that it would violate the terms of the interim agreement with Iran and could disrupt diplomacy, even if Obama vetoes the bill. But congressional aides say even those who support Obama’s outreach to Iran could buckle if forced to accept another six-month deal.
Backers of the congressional sanctions push say the crippling economic penalties are what’s drawn Iran to the negotiating table in the first place and should not be eased until the Islamic republic bends on all international demands. Many have been unmoved by Obama’s pleas to hold off on legislation.
“It’s time to schedule a vote on the bill to give the American people the diplomatic insurance policy they deserve,” says Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., a leading sanctions advocate.
The prospect of Iran using interim agreements as a delaying tactic has also stoked concern in the Middle East, particularly in Israel, which sees an Iranian nuclear program as a threat to its very existence. Senior Israeli officials say they’re concerned that even if Iran complies with the terms of interim agreements, the nature of those accords will allow the Islamic republic to keep key elements of its program intact.
Yet pushing directly for a comprehensive pact is not without pitfalls. Negotiations are likely to be far thornier than in the months of discussions that went into producing the interim agreement. And any final pact, U.S. officials have stressed, must settle once and for all any concerns that Iran may be trying to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran has denied it is seeking a bomb and says it is pursuing nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes.
In a report released this week, David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector who regularly consults with the Obama administration, said Iran must remove some 15,000 of its estimated 20,000 centrifuges to make a final agreement palatable for the United States. Albright, whose report drew on discussions with senior U.S. officials, also said Tehran would have to shut down an underground uranium enrichment site and significantly downgrade its heavy water reactor.
Iran has never come close to accepting such conditions. They would eliminate the possibility of a plutonium-based weapon core and extend by several months the timespan needed for Iran to “break out” through higher-grade uranium enrichment toward nuclear weapons development.
As of now, Iran insists it isn’t required to dismantle any parts of its nuclear program. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Hassan Rouhani said his country would honour the interim deal and was ready to do business with the world.
The Ultimate American Road Trip: Route 66
If you’re looking for the omega American road trip then you’ve got to hit the Mother Road, otherwise known as Route 66. From Chicago to LA, it’s a journey that’ll provide the experience of a lifetime, showing you the heart of a great nation.
Start in Chicago & Chase the Sun
In reality, the best always head west. Would you rather end the trip in the Windy City, or just in time to catch a gorgeous L.A. sunset on the beach? There’s just something deeply spiritual for folks when we head west. It becomes an adventure. It becomes a vehicular voyage to the sea. Here are some of the highlights you can expect in order:
• Illinois: It’s a pretty straight shot through the state from Chicago through Springfield (which has some stretches of restored Route 66) and southwest to St. Louis. There’s a bit of the bright lights of big cities, but also a good calm stretch of rural to cruise through as well; vast fields of corn and farmland for close to 300 miles.
• Missouri: Once you hit East St. Louis you’ll again be greeted by sky scrapers, industrial areas and the mark of modernity but then it’s another SE straight shot through the entire belly of the state.
• Kansas: You’re only going to spend a little time in the good’ol Kansas heartland. And by little we mean a whopping 14 miles far down in the bottom south east corner. You’ll go through two towns: Galena and Baxter Springs but rest assured there’s great classic restaurants and places that’ve been open as long as Route 66 has been around. In fact, it’s because of road tripper like you just passin’on through that keep’em goin.
• Oklahoma: You’re going to go through two huge metropolises that have “country” written all over’em: Tulsa first and then into Oklahoma City before heading directly west towards the Pan Handle. Of all 8 states, it’s here that they take Route 66 the most seriously. It’s got the most preserved still-drivable miles and you’ll be able to see the remnants of Kiowa, Apache and Comanche Native American land. And, you’ll get to take the same route as families long ago in the Dust Bowl took to escape.
• Texas: You’re going to go through the upper tip of the Texas Pan Handle that takes you through Amarillo. It looks short on a map but the 200-mile stretch of plains is a sight to behold like none other. If you can time it so you cut through here in the afternoon on a sunny day your spirit will be recharged. Just try not to pay any attention to all the truckers!
• New Mexico: Welcome to the Land of Enchantment where you’ll pass through Sun Belt city and Albuquerque. These days, it can be a bit challenging to stay strictly on the old road but with all the sandstone mesas and pine forests it’s definitely worth it.
• Arizona: In Arizona you’ll stay in the northern plains rather than heading down into the really hot areas around Phoenix. Instead, you’ll pass directly through Flagstaff which is a mountain town and where Northern Arizona University is located. The sights here are like a completely different world from everything you’ve seen so far, especially once you begin to head south right before passing into California. Oh, and because of the high speeds on the I-40, this will feel like one of those awesome car track days.
• California: Once you reach this point get ready to cruise through rolling hills, vineyards, orchards, stunning landscapes and then at Barstow you should begin smelling the sea. From San Bernardino and Pasadena to Santa Monica it’s simply breathtaking.
This is only a taste of the experience really. You’ve just got to get out and do it. There’s plenty of great resources online to keep you on track and if you have the time you don’t have to miss a thing. Enjoy!
Key Moments from Trump’s Impeachment Hearing
Heartbreaking; Another School Shooting Santa Clarita, CA
Santa Clarita, California, high school shooting leaves 2 students dead, multiple injured
SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (KABC) — A 16-year-old boy shot five fellow students, two fatally, Thursday morning at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita before turning the .45-caliber handgun on himself, authorities said.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesperson said multiple 911 calls prompted firefighter-paramedics to respond about 7:40 a.m. to the school at 21900 Centurion Way.
Six students, including the gunman, were found in the quad suffering from gunshot wounds, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference. All six were transported to hospitals, where two of them, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, were later pronounced dead.
The surviving victims were described as two girls, ages 14 and 15, and a 14-year-old boy.
In a tweet, Henry Mayo Hospital said it had received four patients.
Their names were not immediately disclosed. The sheriff said the deceased girl’s parents were at the hospital. He was notified of the second fatality during a press conference at the school.
Gunman turns .45 caliber on himself
According to sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener, surveillance video “clearly” shows the suspect pulling a semi-automatic handgun out of his backpack in the quad and shooting five classmates before shooting himself in the head.
Thursday was the gunman’s 16th birthday, the captain said.
He was listed in grave condition at a hospital, according to Villanueva.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, authorities released a description of the suspect as a manhunt got underway. Heavily armed deputies and an armored SWAT vehicle were seen at a home near the school, but it was unclear if the house was connected to the investigation.
The high school remained on lockdown for hours after the incident. Shortly before 11 a.m., lockdowns were lifted at all campuses in the district, as well as Rosedell and Highland elementary schools.
Central Park, at 27150 Bouquet Canyon Road, was being used as a reunification point for parents and students, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Undersheriff Tim Murakami tweeted an apology to parents, saying investigators need to interview “every student at Saugus HS” before they can be released.
In a statement, the White House said President Donald Trump was monitoring ongoing reports about the shooting.
“The White House encourages all those in the area to follow the advice of local law enforcement and first responders,” the statement said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted an expression of gratitude to the emergency responders.
“We simply should not have to fear for our kids’ lives when we drop them off at school,” the governor said. Addressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Newsom asked: “How many more lives will be lost? How many more shootings will we have to endure? We need commonsense gun reform. NOW.”
Amid the chaos at the scene, the number of reported victims fluctuated throughout the morning. The sheriff later confirmed that six people were shot, including the gunman.