Some Progress in Nuclear Talks

Some Progress in Nuclear TalksSome Progress in Nuclear Talks

The chief nuclear negotiator says the talks between Iran and the major powers over Tehran's nuclear program have made "some progress".

"All sides believe that in the new round of nuclear talks (which was held in Vienna from Tuesday to Thursday) some progress was made and the process of the talks is forward-moving… although the progress is slow," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on Thursday before a meeting between Iranian negotiators and political directors of the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

Iran and the six major powers are trying to build on an interim nuclear accord they reached in Geneva last November to hammer out a long-term settlement to the nuclear dispute, which has dragged on for over a decade. They have set a November 24 target date to strike a deal.

The final deal would impose temporary constraints on Iran's nuclear work in exchange for a phased lifting of sanctions.

 Zarif said, "We think that we have moved forward in all the fields and various proposals were discussed," he said.

Since the previous round of talks in New York, the negotiating parties have discussed solutions instead of "focusing on problems," he added.

On the trilateral meeting between the foreign minister, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates the talks on behalf of the P5+1, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, he said, "Yesterday's talks were difficult and intensive; and very serious discussions on various issues remain to be held."  

Zarif also said another meeting will be held between him, Kerry, and Ashton in three to four weeks' time, adding other negotiators may be invited if the need arises.

In addition, he said expert-level nuclear talks will be held within the next two weeks.

Elsewhere, the senior diplomat pointed to the issue of sanctions, which is a major sticking point in the nuclear talks, and said it is necessary for the other side to understand that sanctions have been "ineffective".

"But the other side feels the sanctions are of great value," he said.

****Focus on Deadline

On the possibility of the extension of the talks beyond the November 24 target date, Zarif said extending the negotiations is not an appropriate measure, adding, "There is no need to think about an extension."  

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi last week raised the possibility the talks could be extended and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that the deadline was not "sacred".

"I cannot guarantee that it will be done before November 24. This date is not sacred. We will do our best to achieve results before this date," Lavrov told RIA Novosti.

The United States has also said it is focused on the November 24 date.

Reuters on Thursday quoted a US official as saying an extension was not discussed, adding, "You never say never, but today we are focused on Nov. 24 and Nov. 24 only."

****Chipping Away at Issues

A senior US official also said on Wednesday that some progress continued to be made in the talks but much work remained to be done, Reuters reported.

The State Department official spoke after about six hours of talks between Zarif, Kerry, and Ashton in the Austrian capital.

"We’ve been chipping away at some of the issues. Everybody has put ideas on the table to see if we can move the ball forward," the official said. “We have and continue to make some progress but there’s a substantial amount of work to be done."

 "We hope Iran decides to take advantage of this historic opportunity," the senior US official said, declining to be named.

"We can foresee a way forward through a verifiable agreement that both resolves the international community’s concerns about ... Iran’s nuclear program and also provides the Iranian people with more economic opportunity," the official added.

****Critical Phase

Ashton's spokesman said on Thursday the talks are in a “critical phase”.  

"We are trying hard to make progress and remain fully engaged to achieve a comprehensive solution" by the deadline, Michael Mann said in a statement, adding that experts would meet in coming days to continue technical work.

****Major Issues Unresolved

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who represents Moscow at the nuclear talks, said on Thursday some major issues have remained unresolved.  

"The three blocks of questions – uranium enrichment, the future of the Arak nuclear reactor, the lifting of sanctions – are still not worked out. In addition to that, there is an array of issues that cannot be considered fully resolved yet and thus cannot be laid out on paper. This includes verifying (the implementation of the agreement) as well as the issue of transparency," Ryabkov told Russian journalists, RIA Novosti reported.

"There is some slow progress on the issues of sanctions and enrichment, which is insufficient in terms of meeting the deadline. There is no assurance that we are on the brink (of an agreement)," he said.

He added, "There are some other issues, maybe less significant, but without their resolution it would be impossible to find a compromise and agree on a final deal."

"Paradoxically, like in rock-climbing, the ascent to the mountain top becomes more difficult with every subsequent step, increasing the danger of falling."