NEGOTIATORS FOR Iran and six world powers are shown meeting in the historic basement of the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna in April..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
VIENNA – Leadership from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany slowly trickled into Austria’s capital over the weekend, hoping to clinch a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program after two years of talks, but skeptical such a deal is at hand.
Deadline for the deal, agreed upon by world powers, is in just two days. But no country at the table is suggesting the date is feasible, and all have said they are prepared to stay for a “few days” beyond the deadline to hammer out their differences.
Those differences amount to significant political disagreements which, up until now, have stumped negotiators, even as they had hoped to settle all political questions in a framework agreement reached in Switzerland back in April.
The nature of those gaps, and the buffer period purchased by their negotiating teams, might explain why the foreign ministers from each nation at the table are arriving in Vienna at a leisurely pace.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif – representing the two most active parties in the talks – were the first to arrive on Friday night. They met on Saturday morning, offering few words to the press and entering via the rear – away from cameras – of the Palais Coburg mansion in central Vienna.
“We have a lot of hard work to do. We have some very tough issues,” Kerry said in a brief remark to the press as he entered a 90-minute meeting with Zarif and their aides.
Kerry used similar language just days before an agreement was reached in Lausanne on April 2, which was meant to lay the groundwork for a final agreement.
“I agree,” Zarif said. “Maybe not on the issues. But on the fact that we need to work really hard in order to be able to make progress and move forward.”
Top diplomats from Britain, Russia, China and Germany have not yet arrived, though the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, plans to travel to Vienna on Sunday.
“What we want is a robust deal that recognizes Iran’s right to civil nuclear power, but guarantees that Iran gives up definitively the nuclear weapon,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said upon arrival in the Austrian capital.
“For this there are three indispensable conditions,” he continued: “A lasting limitation of Iran’s research and development capacity, a rigorous inspection of sites, including military if needed, and the third condition is the automatic return of sanctions in case it violates its commitments.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered remarks last week that rejected the first two of those conditions outright. And a bill was passed into law last week in Tehran that forbids any deal that grants inspectors access to the country’s military sites or that phases sanctions relief over time based on Iran’s compliance with the agreement.
Iran is negotiating for immediate sanctions relief in exchange for managed access to its nuclear facilities.
World powers are hoping to cap, restrict, monitor, and partially roll back Iran’s nuclear work for a finite period.
US officials say that July 6, not June 30, is the real deadline – the day that Congress returns from its Independence Day recess. A new law granting Congress oversight powers over any nuclear agreement with Iran allows it 30 days to review any deal and vote to approve of it – if it receives the text in full by July 6 . That review period doubles if Congress receives the agreement any time thereafter.