PBS NewsHour

Negotiators race to meet deadline on Iran’s nuclear program

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
         Javad Zarif (not pictured) at a hotel in Vienna, Austria July 3, 2015. A year and half of nuclear talks between Iran and major
         powers were creeping towards the finish line on Friday as negotiators wrestled with sticking points including questions about
         Tehran's past atomic research.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: In Vienna, negotiators are racing to meet a July 7th deadline for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Late last night, Iran’s foreign minister announced that Tehran was ready to strike a deal and that negotiators had, quote, “never been closer to a lasting outcome.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agrees they’re making progress but says there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Diplomats from the U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany want Iran to scale back its nuclear program to make sure it cannot build a nuclear weapon. But Iran wants leaders to lift crippling economic sanctions before it makes any changes to its nuclear program, allowing access to U.N. weapons inspectors has also become a major sticking point.

Bloomberg News reporter Indira Lakshmanan has been covering the story, and she joins me now from Vienna.

Indira, they say close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. So, how close are we to reaching a deal here?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BLOOMBERG NEWS REPORTER: Well, yes, that’s exactly right. I mean, you can be close but no cigar, as the old say can goes. And the American delegation has been clear in telling us that while they are closer than they ever have been before, that this still could go up in flames if some very important political decisions are not taken. Of course, what they mean by that is that the Iranians have to make some decisions about giving access and specifically access for the IAEA, which means the U.N. monitors to inspect and meet with people and scientist look at sites where there are suspicions of past military nuclear work on Iran’s part. So, that’s going to be probably the key thing that needs to be worked out for this deal to come together in the coming days.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, there was some progress on that earlier this week. The IAEA announced that by the end of the year, they would actually have a report on this. I mean, that seemed like a step in the right direction, that Iran could understand that, the U.N. could like it, the U.S. could, too.

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Yes. That actually just happened today, Hari. It was really huge news, and that’s IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano who just came back from Tehran two days ago, and he came before reporters today and said that if Tehran cooperates, that they feel that the U.N. could put together its report, address all of the concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work in the past by the end of the year.

But the key part that have sentence is, “if Tehran cooperates”. So, what our sources tell us is that that right now, the two sides are working on a list. They’re working on putting together a list based on U.S. intelligence and other western intelligence, Israeli intelligence, figuring out who are the important people and what are the important sites, and trying to make sure that Iran agrees that those sites can be investigated, those people can be interviewed.

So, with these sort of what is known as the additional protocol-plus, plus more access. So, that’s really what they have to get to the bottom. And we haven’t even mentioned this, but sanctions is the other critical piece. For Iran to give all of this access, they want to get sanctions relief on the other end, and that’s the other sticking point particularly in terms of time schedule, how that’s going to work, that they still need to work out and we’re going to be waiting for foreign ministers to come together tomorrow in the building right behind me, the Coburg Palace, where these negotiations are taking place, to make those final decisions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, speaking of timing, and this is what makes negotiations sticky, both sides want the other side to do their part first.

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Right. Well, we do understand that in the last few days, there has been this critical agreement that they are — there is going to be simultaneity, that while the United States and E.U. preparing the legal steps, the regulatory steps that they need to take to give sanctions relief — on oil sanctions, banking sanctions, unfreezing assets and the rest — that for its part, Iran will be taking all of the steps that it needs to curb its nuclear program.

So, the working idea is that on the day that the United Nations verifies yes, Iran has taken those steps, that on the very same day, the sanctions would be lifted.

So, you know, it’s going to be a complicated thing. I think it’s something we could see perhaps by the end of the year. But Americans have told me they think it’s more likely early next year. This really depends out quickly Iran is willing to take those steps that it needs to do to curb its nuclear activity.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, what are the U.S. sources that you’ve spoken to saying about chances of this getting through Congress?

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN: Yes, I mean, if it was hard to seal this deal here in Vienna, I think it’s going to be really hard to seal this deal on Capitol Hill, to sell it to all of the congressmen who are predisposed against it. I mean, the fact is, it’s not representative of where the American people are. When you look at the polling, most of the polling is very much in favor of the nuclear deal. But on Capitol Hill, there is lot of suspension about this. Also amongst think tanks and public intellectuals, there are a lot of people who are concerned and think that Iran cannot be trusted in any nuclear deal. And part of that is because Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, has raised a lot of his concerns.

So, I think we’re going to — if this deal happen, they’re going to have a 30-day period during which Congress can review it and can either say yea or nay, and I think those are going to be 30 incredibly, you know, tendentious days to be watching.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Indira Lakshmanan joining us from Vienna of Bloomberg News — thanks so much.


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How is Greece likely to vote in austerity referendum?

Supporters of Greece and of the 'NO' campaign applaud a speaker at the 'Greek solidarity
         festival' in Trafalgar Square, London, Britain, July 4, 2015.  The event was held in support of the people of Greece
         and the cancellation of debt, ahead of their referendum on Sunday. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls - RTX1J052

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: PBS NewsHour special correspondent Malcolm Brabant has been covering the latest developments and joins me now from Athens.

You’ve been reporting on this for the past several weeks for us and other places. You’ve been talking to people on the street. The polls say that this vote is incredibly close. What’s the feeling that you get on the street?

MALCOLM BRABANT, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It’s impossible to tell which way this vote is going to go because it’s a hugely difficult and complex vote for people to make. The question on the ballot paper is, is something that would probably baffle economic students.

So, for ordinary people leaving out of the country, miles from Athens, it’s a very difficult choice.

But basically, it distills down to whether or not you want to vote for more of the same, which is increased austerity, which may be more severe that has been going on for the past five years, or something that is a step into the unknown, because nobody really knows what is going to happen if the country votes no.

The government here is basically saying that they’re going to have a better — better terms possibly with the creditors. But that’s something that really s undecided.

And so, this is the most difficult question in Greece’s modern history.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s been a week since the banks have been closed, since money has been rationed, what are the impacts that you see? Are there shortages of goods in stores now due to import restrictions?

MALCOLM BRABANT: No. We’re not seeing shortages yet, but that’s certainly something that people are talking about in the future. There are concerns that people just won’t get the goods that they want to.

The problem is that everybody now wants cash and — because cash is in short supply. And so, suppliers aren’t giving materials to shops without getting cash. Customers are reluctant to part with their cash.

And so, the actual liquidity of the whole country is shrinking, and that makes the difficult for the society to survive.

The ironic thing is what the creditors really wanted to have is a sort of a modern society, financial society with credit and with money sort of going backwards and forwards electronically. But we’re going backwards in that respect. It’s going back to the 1980s.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what are the possibilities on Monday in either way that the vote turns out? Do the central bankers, when they meet, could they approve bail-out funding if the yes side wins, or could they say, you’re out of the Eurozone if the no side wins?

MALCOLM BRABANT: I don’t think so it’s going to happen as quickly as that. I mean, this has been a much slower slide than people had imagined.

People would have thought that after the default that there would have been sort of Armageddon and that simply hasn’t happened. The slide downwards has been sort of fairly gentle.

But the problem is, that the money is running out of the banks here. And the big question is, if there is a no vote, will the banks actually dry out because the European Central Bank may feel compelled not to give the banks here anymore — more money at all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the social tension regardless of which way the vote goes?

MALCOLM BRABANT: It is really sort of quite intense because the country is completely divided. People are talking about this being the levels of hatred that might exist after this, is being something as deep as those that happened during the civil war which started 70 years ago.

This is a country which always had this tendency to turn on itself and to fight to itself. It’s got kind of a self destructed past in a way.

People here have always fought against each other. And after the civil war ended in 1950, it took about 30 years for the country to be almost unified.

And so, those are the kind of tensions that we’re talking about. They’re really immense. Although if you were to look around the city tonight, you would you say that it was relaxed. But there’s an awful lot of tension under the surface.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Malcolm Brabant joining us from Athens, Greece, tonight — thanks so much.

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News Wrap: Syrian government troops fight militant attack in Aleppo

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JUDY WOODRUFF: The heaviest fighting in months raged in the Northern Syrian city of Aleppo today, as government forces tried to repel a coordinated attack by rebels.

More than a dozen Islamic militant groups, including al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, launched the assault on government positions overnight. President Bashar al-Assad’s troops called in airstrikes that killed at least 35 rebel fighters.

Elsewhere, Islamic State-affiliated fighters in Egypt claimed they fired three rockets into Southern Israel. Israeli officials acknowledged that rocket remnants were found, but didn’t confirm their origins. No injuries were reported.

Aetna announced today that it’s buying rival health insurer Humana for $37 billion. If approved, the deal would make Aetna the second largest health insurance company in the U.S., behind UnitedHealth. That would give it more power to negotiate prices under President Obama’s health care overhaul. It would also mean that Aetna would own a larger chunk of the rapidly growing Medicare business.

Residents in Maryville, Tennessee, were allowed home today, a day-and-a-half after a freight train with toxic chemicals derailed and caught fire. Some 5,000 people had been evacuated. The train burned throughout the day yesterday. It was carrying material used to make plastic that’s dangerous if inhaled. Authorities are examining the train’s black box for clues as to what caused the accident.

People around Britain today honored the victims of the deadly terror attack at a Tunisian beach; 30 of the 38 killed by an Islamic extremist in last week’s rampage were British. Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Cameron both participated in moments of silence in the U.K., while the British ambassador to Tunisia laid a wreath at the site of the attack.

HAMISH COWELL, British Ambassador to Tunisia: I think we all live under the threat of terrorism now. And I think that the lone wolf syndrome, we have seen it elsewhere, not just in Tunisia. But, of course, that’s why we are here working with the Tunisians to try to make sure that we have the best security possible. And I know there’s a great commitment from the Tunisians to ensure that they have that security in place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The gunman in the Tunisia rampage was ultimately killed by police. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

A Russian Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station successfully lifted off from Kazakstan today. The unpiloted spacecraft is ferrying food, water, oxygen, and other supplies to the orbiting laboratory. The launch follows three unsuccessful resupply missions, including the SpaceX rocket that exploded shortly after liftoff Sunday.

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Yes or no on bailout referendum, how should Greece vote?

A referendum campaign poster that reads 'Yes (Nai)' is seen on a bus stop with a graffiti that
         reads 'No (Oxi)' on it in Athens, Greece, July 3, 2015. An opinion poll on Greece's bailout referendum published
         on Friday pointed to a slight lead for the Yes vote, on 44.8 percent, against 43.4 percent for the No vote that the leftwing
         government backs.    REUTERS/Christian Hartmann  - RTX1IUFD

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Greece is bracing itself for an uncertain future as voters prepare to go to the polls this Sunday to say yes or no to a bailout package with strict conditions.

The latest surveys show the country is almost evenly divided. And, today, Greek prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged voters to say no to what he says amounts to blackmail from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant begins our coverage from Athens.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Tonight’s no-rally began with clashes at the bottom of Constitution Square. It was instigated by black-clad anarchists who are frequently involved in street battles with the police.

This was a minor confrontation in comparison to others that have happened in five years of austerity. One old man berated the police as they backed away. In Athens’ market district, the day began with a struggle to earn a living. Greeks are caught between a rock and a hard place as they try to decide which way to vote in Sunday’s referendum.

MAN: No.

MAN: All Greece should vote yes.

MAN: My opinion is no.

MAN: No.

MAN: Yes.

WOMAN: I vote no, because I want to be proud of myself. It’s a difficult vote. And I think that now will give us hope for the future and for our children.

MAN: Big yes. Yes.

MALCOLM BRABANT: On either side of the divide, Constantine Alexander, the executive chairman of the Balkan Economic Forum, an international business development project, and a butcher from the Athens meat market.

CONSTANTINE ALEXANDER, Balkan Economic Forum: I know that Greeks right now have a difficult choice to make. They have a choice between the — an austerity program that will be very hard for them for several years, or actually going bankrupt and facing a situation that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

So, the choices are not good, but one of them is better than the other. I learned from Nelson Mandela of South Africa that if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Greek-American George Gilson, a journalist who covered Greece for years, is a victim of the crisis. His newspaper went under two years ago and he’s been unemployed ever since. To make money, he scours junk shops looking for hidden treasures.

GEORGE GILSON, Greece: I wouldn’t like with that yes-vote to legitimate five years of inhuman, punitive, vindictive policy that has nothing to do with Europe, that has nothing to do with sound economic policy, and that has nothing to do with getting Greece out of this crisis.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The no, or Oxi, campaign’s banners are most prominent, especially at the Athens Polytechnic, which is a symbol of national resistance to oppression.

But center-right lawmaker Harry Theocharis, Greece’s former chief tax evasion investigator, believes Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is misleading the country.

HARRY THEOCHARI, Former Secretary General for Public Revenue: I believe that this is their plan A, to go against Europe and take our banking system away from the euro system and change currency towards the drachma. But that’s going to be very, very painful severance.

MALCOLM BRABANT: At the no-rally, a puppeteer made light of the battle between the two sides. Down below, in main subway station, the crowds were jam-packed and chanting no. Just a stone’s throw from the no-rally, the yes side held its own gathering, in a last-ditch attempt to sway voters.

There are many Greeks who are worried about the depths of divisions that may occur as a result of this referendum. This is a country with a history is turning in on itself, and some people are afraid the levels of hatred may reach those which existed at the start of the civil war 70 years ago. Others are also concerned that there might possibly be social unrest, and we have seen an example of that tonight — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Malcolm.

And let’s look at what Sunday’s vote could trigger with two different views. Jacob Kirkegaard is with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. And Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic And Policy research.

And we welcome you both.

You just saw again just how divided the Greek people are.

Jacob Kirkegaard, to you first.

What’s better for Greeks’ future, a yes or no vote?

JACOB KIRKEGAARD, Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics: Well, I think we need — in my opinion, there’s no doubt they should vote yes, because I think we need to make clear that this is not some abstract vote about austerity or not.

This is about really stemming what is now an accelerating national emergency in Greece, where you are starting to see food shortages, you’re starting to see medical supplies run low. And the banking system is just teetering on the brink of collapse, and which has now been closed for a week. And if there is no yes-vote, then the banking system will in my opinion slide into a complete collapse.

We will face significant depositor bailing and other things. So, this is really about saving the Greek economy and therefore the future for the Greek people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Weisbrot, what should the people of Greece do?

MARK WEISBROT, Center for Economic and Policy Research: Well, I would go for a no-vote, because you have to look at who is responsible for this mess, who is responsible for six years of depression, who is responsible for the banks closing right now.

It’s because the European Central Bank decided last Sunday to limit the amount of emergency liquidity assistance, so that the banks wouldn’t have enough money to open. And they did this very deliberately, I think, to intimidate the voters into voting yes.

Everything that comes out of the mouths of the European officials right now is trying to scare and intimidate people to make them feel this pain and tell them this is what you’re going to get if you vote no. This is what you’re going to get if your government is audacious enough to insist not on everything they want or even half of what they want, but just a deal that allows the Greek economy to recover and unemployment to come down.

That’s really all that they have been asking for. And the European authorities have been stubborn and frankly pretty mean about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jacob Kirkegaard, what about that, this argument that Europeans, Central Bank and others, are just asking too much of the Greek people?

JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, there’s no doubt that Greece has been through a tremendous economic crisis in the last five years.

And there’s also no doubt that this has been associated directly with the IMF, the Troika program. But we have to look at the starting point of this program. In 2010, when the bailout was initially launched, Greece had a primary deficit of more than 10 percent of GDP, which means that if you hadn’t had a bailout at that point, you would have faced even greater amounts of austerity at this point.

And then the other thing that I would highlight is that, from the perspective of the Europeans, you cannot expect other European taxpayers to continue to pour money into Greece unconditionally. That’s not the way international bailouts work. And it’s not the way the European bailouts will work either.

And irrespective of what the Greek voters choose on Sunday, I think we also need to recognize that European voters elsewhere in the Eurozone will have an equally legitimate democratic right to say no to continuing payments to Greece. And, unfortunately, I think that’s what may well happen if the Greeks vote no.



Mark Weisbrot, what about his earlier point that the rest of Europe cannot be expected to continue to bail out and support a Greek economy that hasn’t tightened its own belt?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, they have tightened their belt. They had six years of depression. They have got 26 percent unemployment. They have got 60 percent youth unemployment.

They have cut their imports by 36 percent, one of the biggest adjustments in the world. Last year, they had the largest cyclically adjusted primary budget surplus in Europe. So they have done the adjustment. They have gone through hell. And where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

The European authorities are not offering anything. And it’s becoming more and more clear actually — and I have been writing about this for a while — that the real goal of these authorities is to really get rid of the Greek government. That’s what they’re trying to do. And that’s why they won’t allow the economy to recover so far.

And they’re the ones inflicting the damage, OK? It’s not the Greek people that are responsible for the bank closure right now or for the recession going on this long. You know, one way you can see it…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just get Jacob Kirkegaard to respond to what you just said, no light at the end of the tunnel, that the European Union — the European Union, the International Monetary Fund just keeps on asking more and more and more.

JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, I think — I mean, light tend of the tunnel, I mean, the Europeans have already restructured existing Greek debt at least three times.

And it’s very clear that they will have to do so again. There’s no doubt that everyone in Europe, including in Germany, including in Finland and elsewhere, recognizes that the money lent to Greece will not be repaid as they are currently structured.

Restructuring will have to happen. The question is whether or not you want an unconditional restructuring or whether you want a restructuring based on a Greek economy that actually has a chance to grow afterwards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, go ahead.

MARK WEISBROT: Grow now, that’s the thing.

They have already — the European authorities have already and the European Central Bank have pushed the economy back into recession this year. And they started doing that just 10 days after Tsipras was elected. And they didn’t have to do that. The economy was going to grow by 2.5 percent this year.

So, you have these people trying to blame the Greek government for it, and that’s what this referendum is about is really whose fault is it and how are they going to get out of the recession? Almost every economist you talk to knows that these economies have failed.

And they failed in Europe. I mean, Europe has twice — the Eurozone has twice the unemployment than we do. Why is that? Because their Central Bank didn’t do its job. That’s the difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You want to respond?

JACOB KIRKEGAARD: Well, I would just say that it is certainly the case that Greece was on track in late 2014.

And if you read the recent IMF report that came out on Friday, that’s what it said. Greece was on track to exactly grow. And then this government was elected, surrounded with significant political uncertainty, and promised to basically blow up the program as it existed. If you — Greece was on track in 2014. And it wasn’t the Europeans. It was this government in Greece that decided to take everything on track — off track.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, there’s much more to discuss here, but we’re going to watch that vote on Sunday, and certainly be reporting on the aftermath afterwards.

We’re going to thank you both for now. Jacob Kirkegaard, Mark Weisbrot, thank you.



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