Racing Against the Clock: 'Progress' and 'Setbacks' at Nuclear Talks

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, right, walks back to the talks venue after a lunch break during the Iran nuclear program talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, Monday, March 30, 2015. Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program entered a critical phase on Monday with differences still remaining less than two days before a deadline for the outline of an agreement. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)Brendan Smialowski / AP

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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.

Racing Against The Clock: “Progress” And “Setbacks” at Nuclear Talks

The top political story -- both here in the United States and abroad -- is playing out in Switzerland as the U.S. and other world powers race against the clock to strike a nuclear deal with Iran by tomorrow’s deadline. And right now, it’s a story of progress and setbacks, as Germany’s foreign minister put it. "I can't rule out that there will be further crises in these negotiations," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters, per NBC’s Jon Schuppe and M. Alex Johnson, adding that there had been "some progress and some setbacks in the last hours." More: “A senior State Department official denied earlier reports that Iran's refusal to export its atomic fuel was a sticking point that could end prospects of a deal. Tehran's lead negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told reporters Sunday that a deal was still ‘doable.’ At the same time, he ruled out one of the P5+1's (U.S./UK/France/Germany/Russia/China] core demands: that Iran send its nuclear stocks out of the country.

Two other sticking points

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell talked about two other sticking points. “The biggest sticking point, we are told, is that Iran is refusing to give up its research and development on nuclear equipment that can be used for peaceful purposes but also could be used to create nuclear weapons,” she said. “The second sticking point, we're told, is the length of sanctions, when they would be phased out, how quickly they could be lifted. So, those are complications. Now, both sides could be doing this for tactical reasons. The U.S. being very negative, Iran being very positive, to try to bring together if this all falls apart. Because for the first time, U.S. officials are talking pretty openly about what would happen if there is no deal.”

Any deal is a tough sell at home -- in both the U.S. and Iran

Also on “Meet” yesterday, former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill argued why the nuclear talks are so tough: The domestic politics -- in both the U.S. and Iran -- aren’t going to be kind to striking any deal. “Certainly from the U.S. vantage point, they need to go back to Washington and kind of oversell the deal. I mean, the deal is so hinged on technical issues that it is going to be hard to sell. I mean, it just doesn't sing when you bring it back to people. At the same time, the Iranians need to come back to Tehran and say, ‘Well, we just got our sanctions lifted.’ And it's very clear that this is going to be tough. I mean, for both sides, it's not a very nice and clean deal. So, both sides are going to have a heck of a time selling it back in capitals. And, so, I think some of this pessimism is very real.” And be sure not to miss the “ComPRESSed” wrap-up of yesterday’s “Meet the Press” discussions.

Backlash over Indiana law pits social conservatives vs. big business

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What’s fascinating, politically, about the debate over that religious-freedom law in Indiana (and elsewhere) is that it pits social conservatives vs. big business on the subject of gay rights. “Groups such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce have taken to social media with messages that the state is full of welcoming businesses. Democratic South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg touted on Twitter his city's civil rights ordinance's protections for gays and lesbians, while Republican Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke wrote that the law ‘sends the wrong message about Indiana,’” the AP writes. “Supporters of the bill that Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed Thursday say discrimination claims are overblown. They maintain courts haven't allowed that to happen under similar laws covering the federal government and in 19 other states.” But it was striking when, on ABC yesterday, Pence was asked multiple times if the law meant that a florist can refuse service to gay customers, and Pence never once answered the question.

Hillary wiped her server clean

As NBC’s Kristen Welker reported over the weekend, the top Republican investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), revealed that Hillary Clinton had wiped her server clean of her emails. “Clinton's attorney, David Kendall, said Gowdy was looking in the wrong place,” the AP says. “In a six-page letter released late Friday, Kendall said Clinton had turned over to the State Department all work-related emails sent or received during her tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. ‘The Department of State is therefore in possession of all Secretary Clinton's work-related emails from the (personal email) account,’ Kendall wrote.” Here’s the “Meet the Press” discussion over the Clinton emails.

O’Malley knocks dynastic candidates -- like Hillary Clinton

Well, we found out two things about Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley during his interview on ABC yesterday. One, he looks like he’s running (and could very well be the only Democratic challenger against Hillary Clinton). And two, he now knows how he gets attention and name ID – by attacking Clinton, either explicitly or implicitly. “I think that our country always benefits from new leadership and new perspectives. Let's be honest here, the presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families, it is an awesome and sacred trust that to be earned, and exercised on behalf of the American people,” he said. (However, if the presidential “crown” is being passed between just two families, how do you explain Barack Obama? And remember, O’Malley endorsed Clinton over Obama in 2008.) Here’s a deep dive on O’Malley by MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki.

Rubio to launch his presidential bid on April 13?

Well, it’s looking like Monday, April 13 could be the day of Marco Rubio’s presidential announcement. And it would take place in Miami. But that still isn’t 100% locked down. "Honestly, we have several options that we're looking at," a Rubio adviser told First Read on Friday night. "Nothing is final but expect we'll nail a day down early next week." NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell has more: “Rubio's team has secured at least one location for consideration, ‘The Freedom Tower.’ That site, which is now an art museum, holds significance for the Cuban American community in South Florida because many immigrants were processed by federal authorities there back decades ago. But the Rubio team is also considering other announcement locations meaningful to Rubio and the Cuban community including his West Miami residential neighborhood and one of its parks.” O’Donnell adds that Rubio will appear on Fox News today to further discuss his rollout plans.

Has Jeb lost Sheldon Adelson over James Baker’s anti-Netanyahu comments?

It seems that's the case. The New York Times from over the weekend: “Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul and a powerful donor to Republican ‘super PACs,’ is among those who have expressed concerns to Mr. Bush’s friends and allies, several of them said. Mr. Adelson is said to be incensed over Mr. Baker’s comments and the lack of pressure put on him by the Bush team before his address — a significant concern, given that Mr. Adelson has the resources to pour tens of millions of dollars into the Republican presidential primary. But the flare-up could thrust Mr. Bush into conflict with some of the most hawkish voices in his party, including some leading Republican donors, and a constituency determined to demonstrate its strength in the primary.” As a separate New York Times story noted, this GOP backlash at Baker – a trusted adviser to Republican presidents over the years – shows how much the party has shifted when it comes to Israel. “Where past Republican leaders had their disagreements with Israel, today’s Republicans have made support for the Jewish state an inviolable litmus test for anyone aspiring to national office.”

On Huckabee, email lists, and survival hoarding

First there was the backlash Mike Huckabee received from having ties to a company that promoted a scientifically dubious treatment for diabetes. Now there’s the email Huckabee sent out to his list on Saturday entitled: “#1 Item You Should be Hoarding!” From the email: “Are Obama and FEMA going to buy up all the survival food? Something just happened that explains why tons and tons of survival food are literally flying off warehouse shelves. The sad part is, that if everyone could see what I see, we’d have half a chance! They think having a food stockpile ready for a natural disaster is something they can put off for ‘someday’ or ‘never.’ As it stands right now, it’s going to be every man for himself!... So I got in touch with my buddy Frank and put my order in for his Food4Patriots survival food kits. This is Frank's new line of survival food and there are 4 reasons why it's literally flying off the shelves.” Oh, man…

Tammy Duckworth entering IL SEN contest today?

Finally, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is likely to announce her Senate bid against incumbent Mark Kirk (R-IL) as early as today.

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