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Negotiators over Iran's nuclear program believe a clock is ticking. They don't know exactly when it runs down to zero. As we heard on the program last week, the president of the United States and Iran both want a deal, but they're under increasing pressure from skeptics at home. It's in this moment that diplomats conducted another round of talks that wrapped up last night. NPR's Peter Kenyon was tracking them.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As the diplomats trickled out into a frigid Geneva Sunday evening, descriptions of the talks trickled out with them. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi called them good, serious and businesslike, but refused to calculate the progress so far.
ABBAS ARAGCHI: Well, it's too soon to say if we are able to any progress or not. We are still trying to bridge the gaps between the two sides. We try our best, and as I have always said, as diplomats we are always hopeful.
KENYON: Chinese negotiator Wang Qun was the most positive after his delegations one-on-one with the Iranians.
WANG QUN: Very pragmatic and in-depth with existing consensus expanded.
KENYON: Western diplomats exited the building tight-lipped, perhaps reflecting the long distance left to go and the dwindling time to get there. Negotiators set themselves a March 1 deadline to come up with a political agreement, a framework giving some detail on what a final deal will look like come July 1. In order to produce a real framework, painful decisions need to be made. Iran has to decide whether it will roll back its ability to enrich uranium, which can be used to produce electricity or to fuel a nuclear warhead. The West has to decide which sanctions can be lifted when, and it all has to be sellable to hawkish domestic audiences in Tehran and Washington. Jim Walsh, with MIT's Security Studies Program, says Capitol Hill will be the focus of efforts to derail this diplomacy.
JIM WALSH: The bad news is that members of Congress - more so on the Republican side, but some Democrats as well - are going to attempt to kill the negotiations, and they're going to do that by trying to pass sanctions. How do we know that this is the case? Because they tried to do it a year ago.
KENYON: On the Iranian side, Tehran is entangled in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, and oil revenues are plummeting. Shahram Chubin, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says the pressure is mounting on Iranian leaders, but it can only push them so far.
SHAHRAM CHUBIN: And I think here there's often a mistake in Washington. The Iranians are not about to give up. They're not on their last legs. They're not about to throw everything away in order to get an agreement that they don't want.
KENYON: Talks resume in just a few weeks; the time and venue still to be determined. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Geneva.
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