The foreign ministers of Iran and France departed Vienna on Sunday, just two days before a key deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, as officials said they are prepared to extend their talks past Tuesday.
Negotiations under way in the Austrian capital are supposed to wrap up two years of talks over Iran’s nuclear work. The United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany seek to cap and monitor Tehran’s program for a finite period to ensure it is peaceful – with the consent of Iran, and in exchange for international sanctions relief on its government.
The high-level movements of Laurent Fabius of France and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran were downplayed by the American delegation. One senior State Department official said they were traveling to consult with their capitals.
Zarif planned his return from Tehran on Sunday, his team said. US Secretary of State John Kerry will remain in Vienna until the talks recess.
And that recess, the US official said, will not come without conclusion: The US will not agree to extend talks for a long period, and will not leave Vienna without clarity on the path forward, with or without a deal.
“We’re still focused on concluding a comprehensive agreement in this negotiating round,” the official said. “No one is talking about a longterm extension.”
Negotiators from all nations represented in Vienna agree that the June 30 deadline is no longer feasible. But the US team also does not expect the talks to last until July 6, after which point the amount of time allotted to the US Congress to a review a nuclear deal doubles from 30 to 60 days.
“There are a number of different areas where we still have major differences of interpretation in detailing what was agreed in Lausanne,” Philip Hammond, Britain’s secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, said upon arriving in Vienna, referring to a framework agreement reached in Switzerland back in April.
In a speech last week, accompanied by a social media campaign, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said that Iran has redlines entering the final negotiating round. Access for international inspectors to its military sites, long-term restrictions on its research and development, and slowpaced sanctions relief are unacceptable to Iran, he said.
But Hammond and Fabius say that Western powers have redlines of their own.
“There is going to have to be some give or take if we are to get this done in the next few days,” Hammond said. “No deal is better than a bad deal.”
Diplomats expect the talks to follow a similar rhythm to that of the Lausanne negotiations, which extended two days past a March 31 deadline for a framework agreement.
Kerry and Zarif met together at the city’s Palais Coburg twice on Sunday, and joined a plenary meeting with their colleagues from the EU, Russia and China in the afternoon.
Kerry also held bilateral meetings with Hammond, Fabius and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The atmosphere of the meetings, according to one official, was tense, with all parties working under the assumption that the talks have reached their final stage.
But the world still has time to stiffen its terms and insist on conditions in a nuclear agreement with Iran that will prevent that country from arming itself with nuclear weapons and receiving a windfall from sanctions relief to finance its global aggression, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
Netanyahu’s comments came at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu bewailed that the world powers were ignoring Iran’s human rights violations, spelled out in a recently released State Department report on human rights violations around the world, as well as Iran’s continuing support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which is slaughtering its own people.
“Two days before the final date set for the talks on achieving an agreement between the major powers and Iran, all of these things are being pushed aside,” he said. “Practically, there is no demand that Iran change its behavior, and its violations are being completely overlooked.
Its extreme demands, as well as the concessions to Iran, are increasing. We see before our very eyes a pronounced retreat from the redlines which were recently declared – in public – by the major powers. There is no reason to hasten this bad agreement, which is becoming worse by the day.”
That Iran led the State Department’s list of human rights violators because of executions, torture, political arrests, repression of minorities and the LGBT community, as well as other restrictions of freedom, puts the lie to claims that the election of Iranian Present Hassan Rouhani has changed the character of the Iranian regime, Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu said this report joins another recent report issued by the American administration which determined that, during the talks with the major powers, Iran has stepped up its aggression in the region.
“Iran tramples on human rights, disseminates terrorism and is preparing a vast military infrastructure, while the talks with it – despite the foregoing reports – continue as usual,” he said.
An advocate for the deal, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, reported on Sunday that the deal would be phased in over three distinct periods.
The first phase would be the adoption of a deal, in which the agreement would be reached and understood, but not signed. The second phase would be one of initial execution from each participating nation party to the deal, including specific nuclear- related tasks taken by Iran, and legislative review from the US. The third would be the signing of the deal.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post
, one US official said the US team had not seen the report, but that no such agreement had been reached and that phasing was still an important topic of discussion in the negotiating room.
On those critical provisions of the deal itself – on access, the scope of monitoring and the pacing of sanctions relief – the official said that major work still lies ahead.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.