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As Iran deal deadline looms, diplomats worried gaps remain

A diplomat from the six world powers negotiating with Iran said wide gaps remain on many substantive issues one month before the deal deadline.
(L to R)  EU Deputy Secretary General Helga Schmid, Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Margaret Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iranian ambassador to Austria Hassan Tajik attend the so called EU 5+1 Talks with Iran at the UN headquarters in Vienna, on June 17, 2014. The United States and Iran briefly discussed the crisis in Iraq on the sidelines of a critical fifth round of nuclear talks in Vienna, US officials said on June 16, 2014. AFP PHOTO / DIETER NAGL

VIENNA — A month before an interim nuclear deal expires, a diplomat from the six world powers gave a sobering assessment of the Iran final deal talks, noting that while there is progress on drafting “bits of the text” for a final deal, almost no major area of dispute between Iran and the P5+1 has been effectively settled yet. It’s possible that wide gaps on issues like the size of Iran’s enrichment program could close at the end, he said, but it’s not clear that they will.

“Progress has been made,” the P5+1 diplomat at the talks, speaking not for attribution, said here Thursday (June 19). “But we have not concluded a big element of the negotiations.”

Four days into this fifth round of final deal talks, “I am not more optimistic or pessimistic,” the diplomat said. “It’s simply very difficult to know whether we will get the result we need.”

On major points of dispute between Iran and the six world powers, negotiators have always known that any “movement will [likely] come at the end of this,” the diplomat said. “It could be done quickly. And so we hope that by setting out our positions clearly and firmly in some detail, we have cleared the decks for an intense process of discussion. We will see how that goes.“

Meanwile, Iran seemed to be grappling here with the realization that its most sympathetic allies in the P5+1, Russia and China, were sticking with the P5+1 in pressing for Iran to reduce the size of its enrichment program in a final deal, perhaps the widest area of disagreement in the talks.

The P5+1 diplomat said there was not much wiggle room in such issues as centrifuge numbers, as Iran may have been testing to find.

“Of course, this is a negotiation, but there is not a massive amount of flexibility on our side,” the diplomat said. “We need to arrive at an agreement that gives us … certain assurances. … We can’t lock the front door and leave the back window open, in order to arrive at a deal.”

“In a negotiation, there’s a certain process of testing positions,” the diplomat said. “Where trade-offs could be. That is normal.”

“No doubt both sides want a deal,” the diplomat said. “Inevitably it will come down to can the two sides meet the aspirations of what the other can live with.”

The atmosphere inside the negotiating rooms continued to be constructive, if tough, he said. But there was clearly a lot of tension and intensity to the talks, perhaps more than at any earlier round. Iran’s top negotiators were not seen to emerge even once on June 19 that journalists standing in the lobby of Vienna’s Coburg Palace saw.

Talks will continue on Friday (June 20), diplomats decided late evening June 19. A new round could begin as early as July 2, Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reported.

Negotiators are insisting that they are working toward the July 20 deadline and are not seeking an extension, precisely because they do not see any wide gaps closing until the end of the talks, if at all.

Past negotiations with the Iranians including on the interim deal last fall have also been difficult and prospects uncertain till the very end, the diplomat noted.

“Movement comes after a long argument, and then all of a sudden, something can move,” the diplomat said. “This can still happen. I am not disheartened. But I don’t know.”

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