US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif for several hours in Vienna late Saturday in a bid to narrow the differences that have left a final agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program elusive.
Although both said that a deal could be reached by the June 30 deadline, diplomats close to the talks told media that the negotiations could go well into July. This would be a reversal of US State Department statements earlier in the month.
The two sides still have to bridge two major issues.
The first which has been repeatedly mentioned by the Iranian delegation is whether sanctions will immediately be lifted or suspended for an interim “test” period.
A preliminary agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland last April focused on curbing Iran’s nuclear program – including uranium enrichment – in return for a lifting of crippling economic sanctions, which diminished Tehran’s ability to pump and export oil and gas.
The second is a concern repeatedly raised by European and US negotiators concerning how much access Tehran will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit nuclear and military sites.
As Kerry and Zarif met, their negotiating teams tried to iron out these differences.
“We have to work to do,” Kerry told the media during a 90-minute recess in talks with Zarif.
“There are some very tough issues and I think we all look forward to getting to the final effort here to see whether or not a deal is possible. I think everybody would like to see an agreement. But we have to work through some difficult issues.”
Zarif reiterated Kerry’s assessment.
However, he has previously said that if the US failed to live up to the agreement to lift sanctions, Iran retained the right to return to full nuclear activity – including uranium enrichment.
Under the current tentative agreement, Iran’s uranium enrichment program is significantly restricted; it can carry out such activities at only one of its nuclear facilities.
He also said that any concluded deal would have to be “sustainable, mutually respectful and realistic” in its demands of Tehran.
He added: “If people insist on excessive demands, on renegotiation, then it will be difficult to envisage an agreement even without a deadline.”
The two senior diplomats are scheduled to renew talks on Sunday.
The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies