Diplomat Sees Big Hurdles to Iran Deal

Diplomat Sees Big Hurdles to Iran Deal Diplomat Sees Big Hurdles to Iran Deal

As a June 30 deadline for a final nuclear deal approaches, major differences remain between Iran and the major powers on several key issues including sanctions relief and UN access to Iranian sites, a senior western diplomat said on Friday.

"The most difficult subjects need to be resolved in the coming days," the diplomat told journalists on condition of anonymity in the Austrian capital, where talks between the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran have entered their final phase, Reuters reported.

"The questions of access and transparency, PMD (possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear activity) and sanctions remain extremely problematic. We can find an agreement on some points, but on major issues there are still big differences."

Iran denies its nuclear program may have any military objectives, saying the work is solely for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation.

Iran and the six powers set themselves an end-June deadline for a long-term deal that would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program for a specified period of time. But diplomats said the talks would likely run into July.

But despite the major obstacles to overcome, a senior US official suggested to reporters on Thursday that an agreement could be within reach.

"Despite these tough issues, here's really what it's all about. We can truly see a path forward that gets us to a very good agreement here. We know what the pieces of it are," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Western and Iranian officials say the chances of success in Vienna are greater than the likelihood of failure. But there is still no guarantee they will get a deal.

"The next few days will be extremely difficult. There will be overnighters and we will need to keep calm and have a lot of energy," the senior western diplomat said. "At this stage it's not clear that Iran is ready to make the choices."

Officials close to the talks say they have yet to agree on the speed and scope of lifting sanctions, how Iran will reduce its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, the future extent of Tehran's enrichment-centrifuge research and development program and access for UN inspectors to Iranian sites.

Iran wants sanctions lifted immediately, though western officials say they will be eased gradually in accordance with a schedule and after confirmation that Iran has met its commitments.

  Real Deadline

The real deadline is not June 30 but July 9, diplomats say.

The US delegation must present the deal to Congress by July 9 if a mandatory congressional review period before President Barack Obama can begin suspending sanctions is to be limited to 30 days. After July 9, the review will last 60 days, according to a law passed recently by US legislators.

Negotiators involved in the talks fear that such a lengthy delay, which could also hold up the cancellation of United Nations nuclear-related sanctions by the UN Security Council, would be too long and would create the opportunity for any deal agreed in Vienna to unravel.

While the bulk of any deal agreed in Vienna will be made public, the western diplomat said elements of the agreement would be kept confidential. The senior US official said, however, that Congress would have access to all aspects of any agreement hammered out in Vienna.