VIENNA • Foreign ministers from major powers were back in Vienna yesterday seeking to nail down a nuclear deal with Iran after almost two years of intense effort.
Ahead of tomorrow's final deadline, there were signs inside the neoclassical palace-turned-hotel hosting the past eight days of talks by armies of technical and legal experts, that the end may be in sight.
"Extending the talks is not an option for anyone... We are trying to finish the job," Iran's lead negotiator Abbas Araghchi told Iranian TV late last Saturday. But he added: "If we reach an agreement that respects our red lines, then there will be a deal. Otherwise, we prefer to return home to Teheran empty-handed."
Diplomats said that on one of the thorniest issues - sanctions relief for Iran - a compromise may have been worked out, at least among the experts thrashing out the complex final accord.
"There are still differences," an Iranian official insisted, while a Western diplomat said that on United Nations sanctions - as opposed to European Union and United States ones - there was "no agreement yet".
Under the mooted accord, building on a deal from April, sanctions suffocating the Iranian economy will be progressively lifted if Teheran massively scales down its nuclear programme for at least a decade.
This is aimed at extending the time needed by Iran to produce enough nuclear material for one bomb to at least a year, from several months now, although Iran has denied any aims of making bombs.
Coupled with more stringent UN inspections, this will give ample time to stop any such "breakout" attempt, while keeping a modest civilian nuclear programme in place in Iran, the powers believe.
The deal between Iran and the P5+1 - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US - would end a stand-off dating back to 2002 when dissidents first revealed undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.
Such a prospect, however, alarms Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself and which has lobbied hard to prevent what it sees as too soft a deal.