Iran and six world powers ramped up negotiations on Tuesday after accepting they would miss a June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal, with both sides cautioning that major obstacles to a lasting agreement remained.
Diplomats said the Vienna talks would run on for as long as necessary to reach a deal intended to promise an end to sanctions in exchange for at least a decade of limits on Iran’s most sensitive nuclear activities.
The West and its allies suspect Iran may be developing technology that would allow it to build nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program, but Tehran says its ambitions are strictly peaceful.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is on crutches due to a broken leg, has remained in Vienna to await the return of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from consultations with the leadership in Tehran, and the arrival of the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China.
“There are real and tough issues that remain which have to be resolved in order to get the comprehensive agreement, and we still do not know yet whether we will be able to get there,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters.
Zarif flew in on Tuesday morning with Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, still recovering from major surgery in May, and immediately went into almost two hours of private discussions with Kerry.
“I am here to get a final deal, and I think we can,” he told reporters.” Zarif was also due to meet his German and Russian counterparts later.
For more than a week, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have been working into the night with Iran trying to break an impasse in talks that they feel have never been closer to concluding positively.
Diplomats have said the real deadline is not June 30 but July 9, the latest that the deal can be presented to the U.S. Congress if a mandatory review period before President Barack Obama can begin suspending sanctions is to be limited to 30 days. After that, the review will last 60 days, with growing risks that the deal could unravel.
The main differences are on the pace and timing of sanctions relief for Iran and on the nature of monitoring mechanisms to ensure it complies with the deal.
A big sticking point is Western demands that U.N. inspectors have access to Iranian military sites and nuclear scientists.
Western diplomats say they are nearing a resolution, although Iranian officials maintain that access to military sites is a red line set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The U.S. official said the six powers had come up with a system to ensure that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have the necessary access, though there was no suggestion the Iranians had agreed to this.—Reuters