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Words You'll Hear: 'Implementation Day'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's time once again for our regular segment Words You'll hear. That's where we try to understand stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing some of the words associated with those stories. Today, our phrase is implementation day, which has huge indications for Iran and perhaps other countries as well. Secretary of State John Kerry says it could be days away. So here to tell us more about implementation day is NPR's Peter Kenyon, who followed the long-running nuclear talks with Iran. He's in Istanbul now. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So what is implementation day, and what does this have to do with Iran?

KENYON: Implementation day is when Iran finishes a whole series of big steps to shrink its nuclear program, cut things down and also make it easier to inspect in the future. It's already moved a lot of its fuel; enriched uranium is gone from the country; it's yanking out centrifuges left and right; it's going to be disabling its plutonium reactor. Once it does all the steps and the U.N. verifies it, then we get implementation day. And what actually happens then is what Iran has been waiting for for so long - the major financial and banking sanctions get lifted, and they get access to, I don't know, $100 billion or more in assets that have been frozen.

MARTIN: Maybe this is a dumb question, but I have to ask, why do they call it implementation day instead of, I don't know, beginning day...

KENYON: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: ...Or treaty day? I don't - maybe...

KENYON: I know what you mean.

MARTIN: Maybe that's why they call it that because they can't think of a better word. If I could think of one, I would offer it to you. But why do they call it that?

KENYON: Well, there's another reason. It's a good question. And it's because they had extremely different narratives, these negotiators, sitting across the table from each other. On the one hand, Iran's leaders were saying everything's got to be lifted the day this begins. Right from the start, all of the sanctions are lifted. That's our demand. And then you had the Western leaders - Washington and European leaders - saying nothing is going to get lifted until after Iran does all these big steps to reduce its nuclear program and makes other commitments. Now, how, you might wonder, can you make both of those things true at the same time? Turns out you need a lot of lawyers.

MARTIN: OK (laughter). So this phrase allowed the leadership in Iran and those in the West - particularly the U.S. - to say things that sounded different but they could still go forward. Is it kind of like that, a sort of cover for them to sort of keep talking and keep moving toward a resolution?

KENYON: Yep. It was an amazing balancing act in some ways. There's not just implementation day. There's a whole series of days as part of this deal. We've already had adoption day, and that's when the Western leaders said, see? Now Iran's going to do all these big nuclear cuts. That's what we promised. And what's going to happen next is implementation day. Iranian leaders turn around and say, see? Just like we said, the sanctions are being lifted and we are now just implementing the agreement. So our demands have been met. So it is a way of making opposite things true at the same time.

MARTIN: This is really fascinating, Peter, I have to be honest. Maybe this is, like, nerd fun. But it's really interesting.

KENYON: Exactly, I think it is.

MARTIN: The final question to you though, this is all happening at a very unsettled time, you know, in the Middle East - I mean, this whole conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

KENYON: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is there any sense that these other events will be affecting the timeline?

KENYON: You know, there's some worry about that. It seems to be going forward. But Riyadh has been one of the biggest foes of this deal from the beginning. They're very worried about Iran having more money, more power in the region. Washington's not especially happy right now over Iran's missile program, a whole other issue. So this big victory for President Hassan Rouhani in Iran is going to be coming at a very touchy time.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thank you so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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