Diplomats work to extend Iran nuclear talks

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Article Summary
Diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 have begun to negotiate the terms of an extension for an Iran nuclear deal possibly lasting four months.

VIENNA — On Thursday, July 17, diplomats from Iran and six world powers began to negotiate the terms of an extension for an Iran nuclear deal, as Iranian negotiators expressed frustration that their Western counterparts had not responded more positively to Iran’s proposal to hold enrichment capacity steady for up to seven years.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) “must convince us on the formula” for Iran to agree to an extension, a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor.

Iran had shown flexibility in a proposal presented to US Secretary of State John Kerry this week that would have held Iran’s enrichment capacity steady for up to seven years, among other measures. But if Iran hoped the more moderate 11th hour position would launch haggling over final deal terms to meet the July 20 interim deal deadline, it was disappointed. Diplomats here indicate they are preparing for an extension of four months, until around November 20, 2014.

Kerry, while praising tangible progress in the negotiations, returned to Washington July 15 saying there was more work to be done.

Kerry met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on July 16 to brief them on the nuclear negotiations, and has been consulting with congressional leaders over the past two days. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns was also due to return to Washington on Thursday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — whose brother Hossein Fereidoun joined the Iranian delegation’s meetings with Kerry here this past week and who was instrumental in setting up the historic Obama-Rouhani phone call last September — said Thursday it was in the "interest of all" for the talks to continue past the July 20 deadline, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported.

Comments by Iran’s supreme leader last week that Iran eventually wants to have an enrichment capacity of 190,000 separative work units do not reflect Iran’s near term but “ultimate” needs, the Iranian negotiator told Al-Monitor. That suggested Iran had indicated to US negotiators it would be willing to postpone industrial-level enrichment until after the duration of a final agreement.

However, Iran and the P5+1 have not yet agreed on how long a final agreement should last. Iran would like to increase its enrichment capacity within seven years, in part to vindicate the policies of Rouhani, who has championed engagement with the international community, while he would still be in office, were he to win a second presidential term.

US officials have said the minimum duration of a final nuclear accord should be a two-digit number.

There are signs Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif plans to return to Iran Friday, July 18, even as US negotiators indicate they currently plan to stay until the terms for an extension are agreed with the other parties.

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Found in: vienna, p5+1, nuclear talks, mohammad javad zarif, john kerry, iran, hassan rouhani, barack obama

Laura Rozen is Al-Monitor's diplomatic correspondent based in Washington, DC. She has written for Yahoo! News, Politico and Foreign Policy. On Twitter: @LRozen

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