Iran nuclear talks result doubted year after Geneva breakthrough
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet his EU counterpart, Catherine Ashton on Tuesday
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Vienna: Diplomats wrangling over Iran’s nuclear program risk missing their self-imposed deadline for a final accord, casting doubt on the outcome of the talks one year after they began.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with his European Union counterpart, Catherine Ashton, in Vienna on Tuesday and the two will be joined on Wednesday by US secretary of state John Kerry. The talks, which began on 15 October last year in Geneva and yielded an interim agreement that is still in place, are scheduled to conclude by 24 November, a mere six-week window.
“We are not going back to where we were a year ago,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday night in an interview on state television. “How we will make progress and whether the agreement will be finalized in these remaining 40 days, whether some parts will remain, whether it will be extended or not—these are matters that are being discussed.”
The decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has cast the spectre of military conflict over the Persian Gulf nation, home to the world’s No. 4 oil reserves: Israel has said it’s prepared to strike Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly said it doesn’t want a bomb and international monitors have confirmed its declared stockpiles of nuclear material remain in peaceful uses.
Mistrust over Iran’s intentions still loom large, especially so amid the latest Middle East conflagration. Iran is seen by Israel as a greater threat than Islamic State, the militant group that has captured swaths of Syria and Iraq and is the target of a US-led bombing campaign.
“It appears increasingly likely there will not be a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program by the late-November deadline,” Gary Samore, a former US nuclear negotiator who now works at Harvard University, said in an online interview with the Belfer Center. An extension of the talks “could be possible,” said Samore, who is also president of United Against Nuclear Iran, the New York-based lobbyist.
Iran too has been positioning itself for failure. Without progress during this two-day round, the sides “definitely won’t reach the final accord” in the time they have left to them, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said on 11 October. He too said that the talks could be extended.
The interim agreement signed in Geneva gave Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for caps on the country’s uranium enrichment. Iran has eliminated the stockpile of its most sensitive nuclear material and its economy has returned to growth. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have received wider access to Iranian nuclear facilities to ensure it doesn’t divert material that could be used for weapons.
“If a permanent deal is out of reach this Fall, it is in the strategic interests of the United States to extend the interim agreement with Iran for up to a full year,” Jofi Joseph, another former US negotiator with Iran, said in an e-mail. “No deal is worse than the status quo.” Bloomberg
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