US and Iranian officials met in Geneva on Monday to discuss Tehran curbing its nuclear programme in exchange for an end to sanctions, as the US warned that time was running out to reach a deal after talks ran aground last month.
The four-month-old round of negotiations ran into difficulty last month with each side accusing the other of making unrealistic demands, sowing doubt about prospects for a breakthrough next month.
The talks could be extended for another six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline, a senior Iranian official said on Monday.
Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what is suitable for civilian nuclear power stations. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for planned nuclear reactors and rejects Western allegations it seeks the capability to make nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful energy programme.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi (pictured top) spoke of a possible extension to the talks in remarks in Geneva to Iranian media on the sidelines of meetings with senior US officials and the European Union’s deputy chief negotiator.
“We hope to reach a final agreement [by July 20] but, if this doesn’t happen, then we have no choice but to extend the Geneva deal for six more months while we continue negotiations,” Araqchi was quoted as saying by Iran’s state news agency IRNA. “It’s still too early to judge whether an extension will be needed. This hope still exists that we will be able to reach a final agreement by the end of the six months on July 20.”
Washington sends ‘A’ team to Geneva
The No. 2 US diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the primary US negotiator with Iran, met an Iranian delegation led by Araqchi in Geneva on Thursday.
“They [the Obama administration] are aware that they are at a critical juncture in these talks; that time is running out, so they’ve sent in their ‘A’ team,” FRANCE 24 Washington correspondent Kate Fisher reported from the capital.
“There’s a lot of pushing and shoving,” FRANCE 24’s John Zarocostas reported from Geneva. “While the US is pushing hard to deliver on a deal that President Obama could sell to the US congress, the Iranians have their critics back home, the hardliners, who don’t want the Iranian regime of President Rohani to give too much away.”
US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the “wide-ranging” session ran for over five hours. “They will reconvene tomorrow morning and expect to meet all day,” she told reporters in Washington, as part of consultations before the next round of Vienna negotiations scheduled for June 16-20. Araqchi, speaking later to the Iranian student news agency ISNA, described the atmosphere of Monday’s talks with the Americans as “positive and constructive”.
“Hopefully these discussions, like the other bilateral discussions people have, can help get us to the place we want to be,” Harf said. "People need to make tough choices, but we are very focused on that July 20th time."
An end to Iran’s sanctions?
A French diplomatic source said officials from France and Iran would meet on Wednesday to discuss the Vienna negotiations.
And Russian officials will have talks with the Iranians in Rome on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Iranian media.
“There are still gaps between Iran and the [six powers] in various issues and in order to bring our views closer, the other side must make tough decisions,” Araqchi said.
“The goal of these negotiations was to secure the Iranian nation’s rights in the nuclear issue for peaceful purposes,” he was quoted as saying. “We hope that we will be able to achieve this in the remaining time under the six-month nuclear deal.” A second senior Iranian official, Takht Ravanchi, was quoted as saying that putting an end to sanctions was one of the issues discussed during the bilateral session with the Americans.
Iran, the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China included the July deadline for a comprehensive accord in the text of an interim deal they struck on November 24.
That pact, under which Iran shelved some sensitive nuclear work in exchange for limited relief from sanctions, gave scope for a six-month extension if needed to reach a final settlement that would end sanctions and remove the threat of war.
But Obama, to avoid open conflict with the US Congress, where hawkish lawmakers prefer the stick – in the form of harsher sanctions – to the carrot in dealing with Iran, is expected to seek their approval to extend sanctions relief.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is coordinating the six powers’ talks with Tehran. Her deputy Helga Schmid is currently in Geneva for the bilateral meetings with Iran.
Separately, in a shift of tone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scepticism, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said on Monday that Iran was negotiating seriously on a deal to limit its contested nuclear activity.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2014-06-10