Outlines of Nuclear Accord Emerging

Outlines of Nuclear Accord Emerging
Outlines of Nuclear Accord Emerging

Iran and its international negotiating partners are struggling against time in the last round of nuclear talks in Vienna to reach a comprehensive settlement to the dispute over Tehran's nuclear program, with reports coming out of the negotiations suggesting the parties might strike a framework accord and decide to extend the talks for weeks or months to work out details.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry sat for two-way talks for the first time without the presence of EU envoy Catherin Ashton just hours after they held a trilateral meeting on Sunday.   

Kerry had earlier met with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal who was in Vienna on an unannounced visit.  

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 nuclear dispute between the West and Tehran.                                         

In the midst of intensive talks, an unidentified member of the Iranian delegation told ISNA that the two sides might not be able to reach a comprehensive agreement by Monday, the self-imposed deadline for a deal.  

"Considering the short time left until the deadline and number of issues that needed to be discussed and resolved, it is impossible to reach a final and comprehensive deal by November 24 … that's why we are trying to reach an agreement on the outline of a (final) accord which includes the scope of enrichment, the number of centrifuges, the time frames of activities, the mechanism of lifting sanctions and the future of the Fordo (uranium enrichment facility) and the Arak (heavy water reactor) and so on."

Experts with the knowledge of the talks believe that striking a framework accord is far less costly and more preferable than a mere extension of the talks because an extension would have its complications. That is why the parties might discuss a general agreement rather than other options.

The Iranian official, however, underlined that "all parties are serious in their efforts to seal a deal before the expiry of the deadline."

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.    

  No Progress on Key Issues  

Reuters quoted a European source close to the talks in Vienna as saying, “The chances of reaching a deal (by Monday) are very small.”

There had been “no significant” progress so far on the main stumbling blocks of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity and the lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, the source said.

The timing for lifting sanctions and the future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment are the two main sticking points. 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.

US Secretary of State John 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, adding, “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.

  Obama Says Will Persuade Congress

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama told ABC News that “significant gaps” should be closed before Iran and the P5+1 could reach a more permanent deal.    

Obama, however, did not reject the prospect of extending the talks and said, “What we’re going to do is take a look at what emerges over the course of the weekend.”

Elsewhere in the interview, the US president said, “If a deal is reached that is verifiable and ensures that Iran does not have breakout capacity (the time it takes to amass enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb), that not only can I persuade Congress, but I can persuade the American people that it’s the right thing to do.”