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Deputy Secretary Of State: Iran Needs Nuclear Deal 'More Than We Do'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The new deadline to reach a deal on Iran's nuclear program is a just a few days from now - July 7. The stakes are as high as they have ever been. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held direct talks with the Iranian foreign minister yesterday. Kerry said things are moving in the right direction.

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JOHN KERRY: We have some very difficult issues, but we believe we're making progress and we're going to continue to work because of that.

MARTIN: To talk more about where things stand, we are joined by Kerry's deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken. Thanks so much for being with us.

TONY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: We just heard Secretary Kerry being hopeful, but his British counterpart was quoted as saying he doesn't believe there's any kind of breakthrough moment pending. If there is progress as Secretary Kerry has suggested, where is it?

BLINKEN: Well, Rachel, I don't want to get into the details of the negotiations, but, you know, we've been at this for almost two years and it was worth taking a few extra days to see if we could finalize this agreement and to get it right.

MARTIN: We've talked on this program about the need for Iran to come clean about its past nuclear activities and separately Iran has to be willing to allow inspectors into its military facilities. Are those two items, are those deal breakers for the U.S.?

BLINKEN: Well, they're two things. It's clear that the so-called possible military dimensions of Iran's program need to be accounted for. And this is, in fact, a separate process with the IAEA.

MARTIN: The International Atomic Energy Agency.

BLINKEN: That's right. And they've been working on this with Iran for quite some time. Related to that is this question of access and inspections, and if we do not have and the IAEA does not have the access that it needs to be able to verify that Iran is not producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon, then we won't have a deal. You know, you heard the president the other day being very clear that he will be very comfortable walking away from this if we don't get - the international community doesn't get what it needs. And at the heart of that are these questions of transparency and access and verification.

MARTIN: You have said before that what you don't know is whether the Iranians have the political space to make a deal. What does that mean? Do you have any reason to believe that that space is opening?

BLINKEN: You know, it's interesting because there's sometimes a perception here that Iran is the only country on Earth that doesn't have politics when in fact it's exactly the opposite. Their politics are incredibly intense and if you just spend a little bit of time reading their newspapers, listening to their media, listening to the debates in their Majlis - in their parliament - it's very, very clear. And there are people in Iran who are dead set against this agreement and there are others who are pragmatic and believe that it's in Iran's best interest to get a deal. And the challenge is who prevails politically and do the people who want an agreement have the authority to actually get to yes?

MARTIN: Are you clear on where the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is on this?

BLINKEN: I don't think we are. I think - you've heard him makes statements in recent days, but again, this goes to the politics in Iran. But the bottom line is this - none of that matters. What matters is the agreement, if it's reached. What we've seen to date is this - we have, as you know, an interim agreement, the so-called joint plan of action. And Iran has made good on all of its commitments in that agreement, as verified by the IEA, as verified by our own people and other countries. So if we get to that agreement in Vienna and Iran makes the commitments that it must make in order to get to a deal, what the track record of the interim agreement suggests is that they'll keep their commitments.

MARTIN: Do you think it will happen?

BLINKEN: My sense is this - the Iranians have a lot invested in this and they need this agreement and they need it more than we do. So at the end of the day, I think there'll be a lot of pressure internally in Iran to get this done because President Rouhani was elected, in large, part to deliver economically for the Iranian people. At the same time, you know, Iran continues to take actions in other areas - support for terrorism, destabilizing activities in the region and, of course, its own human rights picture - that are going to remain problems, serious problems, even if a deal is reached. But the bottom line is this - if we're able to reach an agreement, even as Iran undertakes those other very objectionable activities, it's because reaching an agreement will make the world a little bit safer

MARTIN: If a plan comes even a couple days beyond the July 7 deadline, the U.S. Congress has 60 days to review it. That's a long time and there are vocal opponents on the Hill who don't want a deal that would eventually mean relaxing sanctions. Are you concerned that after all of this work at the international level that Congress won't ratify this?

BLINKEN: No. We welcome the scrutiny. It's important. It's necessary. But I would also say this - if at the end of the day there are some who oppose the agreement, that's their right, but they have an obligation, I think, not only to say why they oppose it, but what they would do differently and how they would actually get it done.

MARTIN: Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, thanks so much for taking the time.

BLINKEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.