Iran Nuclear Talks on Deadline with No Deal in Sight

Heading toward a deadline tomorrow, diplomats seeking to strike a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions are pushing to resolve disagreements that threaten to scuttle or extend the negotiations.

U.S., European and Iranian officials said yesterday that many issues must be resolved in less than 48 hours if they are to reach a breakthrough accord that would constrain Iran’s nuclear activities and phase out international sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to provide specifics.

Negotiators may have to decide as early as today whether to set aside those efforts in order to ready a fall-back agreement. Such a deal may extend the current interim understanding, known as the joint plan of action, for three to six months to allow for additional bargaining.

The possibility of an extension has not yet been discussed among the negotiators, the officials said.

Iran remains focused on a final accord, even if that means continuing the current round of talks for a couple of extra days beyond Nov. 24, an Iranian official said, asking not to be named because the talks are confidential.

That could cause problems for the U.S. delegation, since U.S.


Secretary of State John Kerry has expected have his team home in time for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 27. An alternative may be to break for the holiday and resume talks early next week.

Other Options

A State Department official, also speaking anonymously, said late yesterday that the focus remains on the agreement, although U.S. officials have started discussing internally and with European allies other options for how to proceed.

Kerry is expected to meet again this morning with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union representative Catherine Ashton.

“We still have some serious gaps which we’re working to close,” Kerry said yesterday before meeting his German colleague, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “A lot of serious work is going on by a lot of people.”

An interim deal, in which Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear activities in return for an easing of economic sanctions by the six countries, is set to expire tomorrow.

The prospect that the major powers will settle for a deal that Iran’s neighbors consider weak has nerves on edge from the Persian Gulf to Israel.

Kerry spoke with Arab foreign ministers yesterday in a telephone conference, according to the State Department official, as well as his Canadian and Turkish counterparts. Earlier this week, he met in London with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, whose nation has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, and spoke yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

‘Hour of Truth’

Israel and the U.S. have threatened military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran, which says its nuclear program is solely for energy and industrial uses, has seen its economy squeezed and oil output slashed under sanctions.

“After a long 10 years of talking to Iran we’ve come here in Vienna to the hour of truth,” Steinmeier told reporters before meeting Kerry.

The speed at which sanctions are rolled back under a possible deal remained one of the main sticking points, four diplomats told Bloomberg News when talks began this week. Iran’s capacity to produce fissile material is the other main point of disagreement, they said.

An accord already exists in draft version, containing a four- or five-page introduction followed by 30 to 40 pages of details, according to a senior Iranian diplomat cited by the Islamic Student News Agency.

The recent slide in oil prices has dealt a blow to Iran. It’s also squeezing Russia, another country targeted by Western sanctions, which has signed deals to buy oil from Iran and sell nuclear reactors. OPEC is scheduled to meet at its Vienna headquarters on Nov. 27 to decide on its production levels.

Source: BLOOMBERG / Nov. 23, 2014


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