Iran nuclear talks continue past deadline

US Secretary of State John Kerry (second from left), British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (fourth from left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) are among the members in Vienna yesterday trying to seal a landmark deal between Iran a
US Secretary of State John Kerry (second from left), British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (fourth from left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) are among the members in Vienna yesterday trying to seal a landmark deal between Iran and the major powers.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Target date pushed back to Friday as issues such as UN arms embargo are being thrashed out

VIENNA • Iran and six major powers will extend their talks for a long-term nuclear agreement till Friday as they tackle the most contentious issues, including the continuation of a UN arms embargo on Iran, the big powers said.

"We are continuing to negotiate for the next couple of days. This does not mean we are extending our deadline," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said outside the hotel where the talks between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States are taking place.

The spokesman for the US delegation, Ms Marie Harf, said the terms of an interim deal between Iran and the six would be extended through Friday to give negotiators a few more days to finish their work.

"We're frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won't get any easier with time," Ms Harf said. "That is why we are continuing to negotiate."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was every reason to believe a deal would be done within a few days, and that there was an understanding that most of the current sanctions against Iran would be lifted.

"There is only one big problem in terms of sanctions - it is the problem of a weapons embargo," he told journalists, according to the news agency Interfax.

He said it was important to reach an agreement on this as soon as possible, telling journalists that "ending the bans on supplies to Iran of the weapons required to fight terrorism is a very, very relevant objective".

It is the fourth time the parties have extended the terms of the interim deal, which was struck in November 2013 and provided Iran with limited sanctions relief in exchange for a halt to the production of uranium enriched to a purity level of 20 per cent.

Previously, they missed a July 2014 deadline for a lasting deal and then again last November.

In April, they managed to agree on a framework accord with a target date of June 30 for finalisation, which was then pushed back to yesterday, before the latest slippage.

The comprehensive deal under discussion is aimed at curbing Teheran's most sensitive nuclear work for a decade or more, in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have slashed Iran's oil exports and crippled its economy.

The comprehensive deal under discussion is aimed at curbing Teheran's most sensitive nuclear work for a decade or more, in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have slashed Iran's oil exports and crippled its economy.

"We are interpreting in a flexible way our deadline, which means that we are taking the time, the days we still need, to finalise the agreement," Ms Mogherini said, adding that there remained several difficult issues to resolve.

Among these, officials said, are Iranian demands for a UN arms embargo and ballistic missiles sanctions to be lifted, the timing of US and EU sanctions relief, and disagreements over future Iranian nuclear research and development.

"We have entered the most difficult... part of the negotiations," Ms Mogherini added. The United States and its allies fear Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran says its programme is peaceful.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2015, with the headline 'Iran nuclear talks continue past deadline'. Print Edition | Subscribe