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Another big issue between the U.S. and Iran: Today is the day that Iran starts carrying out a temporary deal to limit its nuclear program. International inspectors are in Iran to see that some of its nuclear equipment is dismantled and that radioactive fuel is diluted. But this is just a six-month deal. Negotiators must now reach a new permanent nuclear accord. NPR'S Peter Kenyon is following this story, and he reports that there's a lot of skepticism about whether such a deal is possible.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The interim accord that begins today may be a high watermark for nuclear diplomacy, but the shadow of the difficult second round of talks is looming. Each side is sniping at the other's interpretation of the relatively modest steps agreed to thus far. Iran's President Hasan Rouhani has been sounding nearly as provocative as his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lately, boasting that the deal reached in November represents a total capitulation by the West. Israeli and American conservatives are sounding alarms about such talk, even though diplomats say it's intended to placate Iranian hardliners. Ali Ansari, professor of Iranian history at St. Andrew's College in Scotland, says Rouhani is indeed under increasing pressure, and not only from the hardliners.
ALI ANSARI: There is some criticism, interestingly enough, from reformists on the other side of the political spectrum, who are arguing that many of the promises that Rouhani made about political reform in order to win election in last June have really remained unfulfilled, and that he's really not addressing them at all. So, Rouhani finds himself really under attack from two quite distinct political groups, and both of them expose some of his fragility.
KENYON: Until now, there have been two tracks of discussions: one between Iran and the six world powers known as the P-5+1, and one between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Now, those tracks are beginning to converge. Starting today, IAEA inspectors will make daily visits to verify Iranian pledges to stop its highest level enrichment of uranium and reduce its existing stockpile. Iran analyst Ali Vaez at the International Crisis Group says the sides are far apart on all the remaining major issues, although he says if the political will is there, technically, most of the outstanding questions can be answered in the upcoming talks.
ALI VAEZ: I think all the remaining contentious issues have technical solutions. The real issue is finding a way that would allow each side to sell the deal back home to those who oppose it from a political perspective, rather than a technical perspective.
KENYON: Take one important issue: Iran's heavy-water reactor being built at Arak. Experts say there are ways to ensure that Iran doesn't create plutonium - useful for a nuclear weapon - from the reactor's spent fuel. But they would entail concessions that deeply disturb hardliners on both sides. Vaez says more bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran may be needed to keep things on course. Analyst Ali Ansari in Scotland says negotiators must be allowed to focus on the task at hand, without either the panicky cries of critics or the unrealistic optimism of those who want to imagine a completely new relationship between Iran and the West.
ANSARI: And to my mind, I have to say, I think the optimism of the early days and the great euphoria I think has been very unhelpful, and we would've been much better to play down the prospect of success and see a success, rather than raise expectation and find that we are all bitterly disappointed, because the disappointment will be quite disastrous, if it happens.
KENYON: There are at least two moves afoot that critics say will scuttle the talks. A bill with bipartisan support in Congress would add new sanctions soon after the six-month interim period expires. In Tehran, lawmakers say if any new sanctions are imposed, they will require the country to enrich uranium to 60 percent - dangerously close to weapons-grade fuel. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.
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