Iran nuclear talks reach make-or-break endgame

Iran nuclear talks reach make-or-break endgame
World powers and Iran are locked in crunch talks in Vienna aimed at ending a 12-year standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme.
3 min read
21 November, 2014
Members of the "5+1" group have until Monday to seal accord with Iran

Iran nuclear talks moved towards a make-or-break endgame in Vienna Friday, with US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, seeking a breakthrough before a looming deadline. 

Speaking in Paris earlier before flying to Vienna , Kerry said however that the possibility of putting more time on the clock, as happened in July with an earlier deadline, was not on the table.

"We are not discussing an extension. We are negotiating to have an agreement. It's that simple," Kerry said.

Members of the "5+1" group (the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) have until Monday to seal a landmark accord with Iran on its nuclear programme. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that political will was needed to reach agreement in talks on Iran's nuclear programme in Vienna, but hoped  a compromise would be found.

"We are sticking to our evaluation that all the elements of an agreement are already on the table and the task of diplomats now is to correctly put together a package and show political will," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow after discussing the talks with visiting Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

The Russian diplomat called for an agreement that is "based on the balance of interests and is not subjected to attempts at the last minute to haggle something beyond what is realistic." 

Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond sought to put the onus on Iran and urged it to reach a deal adding that Tehran has "huge" amount to gain if it can show what he called 'sufficient flexibilty' and agree a nuclear accord with world powers. 

"The prize for Iran is huge, access to very large amounts of frozen assets, the ability to trade freely with the world again and the ability to reset relationships with the international community," Philip Hammond said as he arrived in Vienna to join the talks. 

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also on Friday urged Iran to "seize this opportunity".  

Rouhani's warning

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that a deal was possible but only if the other side showed "political will ... and doesn't make excessive demands". 

Iran's speaker of parliament Ali Larijani meanwhile told Iranian media: "We are constantly cooperating (but the other side) is raising the tone."  He added: "We hope that the other side will behave in a rational manner ... and won't take the wrong path." 

Troubled talks

Iran and the "5+1" group  have been trying since February to turn an interim accord reached a year ago into a lasting agreement before November 24. 

Such a deal, after 12 years of rising tensions, is aimed at easing fears that Iran will develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities, an ambition Tehran denies. 

Some areas appear provisionally settled, such as the future of the Arak nuclear reactor and tighter UN inspections to better detect any attempt to build a bomb.

But two key issues remain: uranium enrichment-rendering uranium suitable for peaceful uses but also, at high purities, for a weapon, and the pace at which sanctions on Iran might be lifted. 

Iran wants to increase the number of enrichment centrifuges in order, it says, to make fuel for a fleet of future reactors while the West wants them dramatically reduced, reportedly by half.  

In exchange for any reduction in its activities, Iran wants sanctions lifted. But the powers want to stagger any suspension arguing that they want to test  Iran's commitment to any deal. 

Iran denies seeking to build an atomic bomb and says it wants to expand its nuclear programme in order to generate electricity.