PRAGUE: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from the six powers negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program will travel to Vienna this weekend to help break the logjam in the talks, a senior Western official said on Thursday.
“I can tell you that Kerry will be in Vienna this weekend, probably Saturday,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Kerry had bilateral meetings scheduled with fellow ministers Sunday, he said. Another diplomat confirmed the travel plans.
Iran and the powers – the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China – aim to reach a long-term deal to end the decade-old standoff by a July 20 deadline. Many diplomats and analysts believe an extension may be needed in view of the wide gaps in negotiating positions.
Earlier this week, diplomats close to the talks said the ministers may end up negotiating the terms of an extension in Vienna. The goal is to reach a deal on curbs for Iran’s nuclear program in exchange to a gradual lifting of sanctions on Tehran.
The Western official said it was unlikely they were going to Vienna to sign an agreement, given the significant differences between the parties on the acceptable scope of Tehran's future enrichment programme.
Another Western diplomat said: “Things have been moving but there are still wide gaps and they need to be narrowed down. This is what needs to happen in the next days.”
The West believes Iran has been seeking to develop nuclear capability to make bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is an entirely peaceful project to generate electricity. The powers want Iran to significantly scale back its activities.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday the ongoing round of talks was tough but expressed hope that reaching a deal by the deadline was possible.
“The discussions are extremely difficult but on the face of it there is some progress,” Russian spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told a news conference. “We hope to work out a final text of the agreement – despite all the difficulties – by the July 20 deadline.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday Iran would need to boost its uranium enrichment capacity in the long term, underlining a gap in positions but possibly signalling some flexibility in the short term.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday differences in approach between Russia and some of the other governments negotiating with Iran had appeared in the past few days. None of the major outstanding issues in the talks had been settled, he said.
But a European Union spokesman said a day later that the six powers are “completely united.” The EU is coordinating the talks between Iran and the six powers.
Iran and the powers resumed talks last week. There is still no sign of substantive progress on the main sticking points, which include uranium enrichment, the length of any agreement and the speed at which sanctions would be lifted.
A preliminary deal struck in Geneva gave Tehran limited sanctions relief to buy time for negotiating a comprehensive pact in exchange for suspending some of its most sensitive atomic work.