VIENNA • Rollercoaster talks towards a nuclear deal dragged into a 14th day yesterday with still no end in sight, as Iran accused the West of backtracking and Washington said it was prepared to walk away.
A deadline yesterday morning to present the deal to the US Congress was missed, doubling the time for American lawmakers to review the accord - if it can be reached - to 60 days and risking delaying key measures such as the lifting of sanctions.
"We're making progress, it's painfully slow... There are still some issues that have to be resolved," said British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, after meeting other ministers. But he voiced the hope that experts working behind the scenes will be able to clear more of the text so they can regroup today to discuss the last hurdles.
Global powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - are struggling to end a 13-year stand-off and nail down a deal to put nuclear arms out of Iran's reach in return for lifting biting international sanctions.
Two years of intense negotiations since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have now come down to a crunch round of talks in Vienna. "If the West gives up its excessive demands, we will certainly have a good deal in the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1," Iran's First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri told Iranian media.
The Iranian delegation had been "defending our national positions, the government's red lines and our nuclear rights," he added.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, appearing on the balcony of the Palais Coburg where the negotiations are being held, appeared to be digging in for more days of talks, insisting: "We're making progress." Asked if he would stay through the weekend, he replied: "It looks like it."
The talks were bogged down by some of the thorniest issues such as a mechanism for lifting interlinked European Union (EU), United Nations and US sanctions, and ways to dismantle Iran's nuclear capability and verify its claims that it has never sought an atomic bomb.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday warned the US would not be rushed into a deal, but insisted he would not stay at the negotiating table forever. "If the tough decisions don't get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process," he told reporters.
Yesterday, as he met again the other ministers of the so-called P5+1 group without Iran, the top US diplomat insisted: "We're working hard. We're pushing."
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has also said it is now time for "yes or no" to a deal.The current effort to alleviate international concerns about Iran's nuclear programme led to an interim deal in 2013 under which Teheran froze parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for minor sanctions relief. Two deadlines last year - in July and November - to turn this into a final accord were missed, but in April in Switzerland, the parties managed to agree on the main outlines of a deal.