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U.S. And Iran Offer Different Narratives On The Same Nuclear Deal


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer. It's been two days since Iran and six world powers reached - agreement in principle on most of the major elements of a nuclear accord. Iranian and American officials are busy selling the deal back home, but it does seem as if they're talking about two different agreements. NPR's Peter Kenyon says much of this can be put down to domestic political needs, but it also suggests a difficult road ahead to a final agreement.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It may not be a surprise that Iran and the U.S. would highlight different aspects of a complicated set of compromises in order to maintain support at home for their high-stakes nuclear diplomacy. In fact, a senior U.S. official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the talks, says Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif let each other know in advance that their narratives would be different. But some are wondering what it may mean for a final, legally binding agreement on an issue this sensitive if negotiators can agree on what they agreed on. At Thursday's announcement in Switzerland, Zarif had this to say about one key issue - sanctions placed on Iran by the U.N. Security Council.


MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: Security Council resolutions - there is agreement that all Security Council resolutions will be terminated. It will be an end of Security Council resolutions that have been adopted against Iran. All of them will be terminated.

KENYON: Zarif's heavy emphasis on the termination of sanctions will certainly play well in Iran. The American description of the same issue, though, as portrayed in the State Department's fact sheet on the deal, asserts that no U.N. sanctions can be lifted until Iran completes a hefty list of tasks, including scaling back its enrichment of nuclear fuel, converting a heavy water reactor and an underground enrichment facility, so that no nuclear fuel can be produced and answering long-standing questions about its past nuclear activity. It's one of several issues where the American and Iranian explanations sound far apart. Analyst Cliff Kupchan at the Eurasian Group says to see that this is more than just selecting facts from a mixed bag you only need to look at the Iranian fact sheet on the deal, which was carried by most Iranian media.

CLIFF KUPCHAN: It stated that all sanctions relief - U.N., EU and U.S. - would be immediate. It was unequivocal. It stated that Iran under the deal was free to pursue industrial scale enrichment to fuel its own reactors - unequivocal. It stated that Iran was unhindered in its ability to conduct centrifuge R&D. I don't think we're out of the woods. I think there are very, very difficult issues that were not resolved.

KENYON: Most analysts agree that it's hard to imagine the Iranian negotiators signing off on anything that hadn't been cleared by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but Karim Sadjapour at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says Khamenei is now in a difficult spot. He can either crush the spirit of tens of millions of Iranians, who desperately want sanctions lifted and Iran's isolation to end, or he can demoralize his hard-line conservative base, which opposes any rapprochement with America. Sadjapour says that dilemma will be exacerbated if it looks like one or more of Khamenei's red lines are being crossed. Something he has rarely permitted in his 26 years in power.

KARIM SADJAPOUR: I can count on one hand the number of times when he's laid down very firm and consistent red lines and he's backtracked on them. So the sanctions issue - he'd been very firm on in the last few weeks. And I'm curious to see how they're going to react to our version of the deal.

KENYON: U.S. officials say the end of March deadline was set in part to force the tough political decisions to get made. But they were also trying hard to fashion an agreement that both sides could call a victory. In other words, everyone is entitled to their own narrative, but no one is entitled to their own facts when it comes to the commitments they've agreed to. That will be tested in the days and weeks ahead. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Switzerland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.