VIENNA: Iran’s supreme leader said his nation would not bow to the West’s pressure in nuclear talks with world powers that convene this evening in Vienna.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, urged his countrymen to boost economic, scientific and military capabilities through increased efforts at home, saying the country would follow the “correct” path in negotiations.
“Powers should know that the Iranian nation will not bow,” under pressure, state television quoted Khamenei as saying.
The next round of high-level negotiations between Tehran and six world powers will begin Wednesday, aiming to reach a final agreement to limit Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons before a July 20 deadline.
Under a temporary deal in November, Tehran agreed to cap its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions by the West.
After touching down in the Austrian capital where the talks will be held, Iran’s foreign minister warned that a “lot of effort” was still needed.
“Preparing the draft agreement is a task that requires a lot of effort,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
“If there are differences of opinion, which definitely exist, we will spend time to resolve them,” he said, according to Iranian media.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany want Iran to reduce the scope of its nuclear program to make it practically impossible for Iran to make a nuclear weapon undetected.
In return the Islamic Republic, which denies wanting the bomb and says its aims are purely peaceful, wants all U.N. and Western sanctions lifted.
If the negotiators can manage to get a deal, this could finally resolve a standoff that has been simmering and threatening to escalate into conflict for the past decade.
“If the odds of the talks collapsing are high, the stakes of failure are higher,” Ali Vaez, Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, told AFP. “Time is of the essence.”
Three previous rounds this year served to “review all of the issues and to understand each other’s positions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday.
“And the next step is to begin to see if a text can be drafted. And that is something that presents obviously challenges,” Carney told reporters.
“We hope the leadership in Tehran has given the entire delegation … instructions making it possible to move forward,” Moscow’s negotiator Sergei Ryabkov told the Voice of Russia.
The parties aim to build on an interim deal struck in Geneva in November under which Iran froze certain activities for six months in return for minor sanctions relief. The six months end on July 20.
Turning the Geneva deal into something permanent is a tall order, however, particularly with hard-liners in the United States, Iran and Israel watching closely.
One major issue, the Arak reactor, appears to have been resolved, with Iran indicating the design could be modified to ease concerns that it could produce weapons-grade plutonium.
But others, most notably uranium enrichment and the sequence of sanctions relief “could be harder to bridge,” Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association told AFP.
Enriching uranium – increasing the proportion of a fissile isotope using supersonic spinning machines called centrifuges – makes it suitable for peaceful uses, but at high purities it can be used in a nuclear bomb.
Iran already has enough of low-enriched material for several bombs if it decided to “break out” and use its 20,000 centrifuges to enrich this stockpile to weapons-grade.
“Discussions on enrichment are and will be difficult,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told an American Jewish lobby group, AJC Global Jewish Advocacy, Monday.
Other hurdles include Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and long-standing questions from the IAEA about “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear work in the past.
A meeting Monday between the IAEA and Iran on this made little headway, with the atomic watchdog saying that while Iran has taken “several actions” in other areas “work continues.”
Some progress was made last year when Iran promised to clarify its need for Exploding Bridge Wire detonators, which could theoretically be used in a bomb but which also have other applications.
According to diplomats in Vienna, Iran has yet to convince the IAEA on the detonators issue – which is only the first step – ahead of a Thursday deadline.
“If things were on track, the agency and Iran would have agreed, or would be on the cusp of agreeing, the next round of measures,” one Vienna diplomat told AFP.
“It would seem at the moment that that hasn’t been arrived at yet, which is disappointing if that is the case.”