New Ideas Discussed in Vienna Talks

New Ideas Discussed in Vienna Talks
New Ideas Discussed in Vienna Talks

Iran and the major powers are engaged in nail-biting last-minute talks in Vienna to reach a settlement to a long-running standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program by Monday.         

In a sign that the stakes are high, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a fourth round of talks in three days on Saturday with US Secretary of State John Kerry in presence of EU envoy Catherine Ashton. Sources close to the talks told Reuters on Friday Zarif and Kerry were discussing new ideas that could be shown to both countries’ capitals.   

The senior diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) on Tuesday began a final round of talks, looking to clinch a pact aiming to end a 12-year dispute between the West and Tehran over the country nuclear program.                                          

The West has claimed that Iran may have been seeking to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran denies the allegation, saying its nuclear work is meant only for peaceful purposes, such as power generation.     

Zarif canceled announced plan to return to Tehran for top-level discussions on Friday. He told reporters later that there were no “significant” new proposals to make necessary a trip back home, IRNA reported.  An informed source said Zarif had received a document from the powers that outlined the main principles of a possible agreement, according to Reuters. On Saturday, Zarif also sat separately with his counterparts from Austria and Germany.  

  Careful Progress  

Kerry said on Saturday there were still “serious gaps” in talks over Iran’s nuclear program despite signs of some progress.  

“We’re working hard,” Kerry said ahead of a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “We hope we’re making careful progress, but we have big gaps, we still have some serious gaps, which we’re working to close,” Reuters reported.  A senior western diplomat also said he was not optimistic about prospects for a long-term agreement by Monday’s deadline. Another unnamed senior western diplomat said, “We are still very far away” from an agreement.   

A member of the Iranian delegation also said the negotiators aimed for something short of a comprehensive nuclear agreement.  “Everybody is trying to find an agreement on a general framework so that we can work and fine-tune the details,” AFP quoted the Iranian official as saying.  

“There is no other scenario possible at this stage. Then we can give ourselves some time.”  British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had also raised the possibility of a delay even if Kerry had said he intended to seal a deal by the target date. Hammond, who has left Vienna, said there was still a “very significant gap.”

The timing for lifting sanctions and future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment are the two main stumbling blocks. Iran wants all key sanctions on oil exports and banking terminated almost immediately. However, the West has offered a gradual easing of anti-Iran sanctions, depending on the degree of Iran’s commitment to any final nuclear deal.