VIENNA – Three major sticking points obstructing world powers and Iran from making an historic nuclear deal appear to have been resolved by their technical experts over the weekend.The US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany reportedly have agreed with Iran on a mechanism that would allow sanctions to snap back into place should Tehran violate any final nuclear agreement. The six world powers are negotiating with Iran to cap, restrict, monitor and partially roll back its nuclear program for a finite period in exchange for sanctions relief.
Instead of restarting automatically, a committee made up of representatives from each nation would vote on whether sanctions should be reimposed in the event of “significant noncompliance.”A majority would decide the vote.US Secretary of State John Kerry and his delegation remained largely silent at the Imperial Hotel in Vienna through another tense day of negotiations on Saturday, just blocks away from the Palais Coburg where the main negotiations are taking place. Kerry and US Secretary of Energy Earnest Moniz met with their Iranian counterparts over the weekend.A second hurdle challenging world powers has been Iran’s reluctance to cooperate with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on its investigation into the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program. Negotiations first began in 2013, in no small part to resolve these concerns, and the IAEA’s reports provided a basis for sanctions resolutions out of the United Nations Security Council.IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano visited Tehran last week for talks on the matter, as well as to negotiate the access it needs to verify Iran’s compliance to any future deal.His initial statement out of that meeting suggested substantial gaps remain between his understanding of the IAEA’s needs and that of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. However, Amano said on Saturday that his agency’s full PMD report may be ready by the end of the year.“With cooperation from Iran, I think we can issue a report by the end of the year on the assessment of the clarification of the issues related to the possible military dimensions,” Amano said.Iran has refused to answer virtually all of the IAEA’s questions since 2006 when it suspended its participation with the organization’s protocols.Western powers are convinced that Iran worked on weaponizing nuclear material until at least 2003.Any final, comprehensive nuclear accord will be rolled out in phases. Before the deal is implemented in its entirety, a period of adjustment will allow participating nations to prepare for it gradually.The US has said it seeks to resolve the PMD issue during this implementation period, indicating that a nuclear deal may be in force as early as January 2016.Part of that phasing includes when the US, European Union and Security Council lift their sanctions. Iran wants a complete and “immediate” removal of sanctions upon signing the deal, which theoretically would occur after the implementation phase is complete.An agreement on this phasing was reportedly struck over the weekend, as well.The understanding was allegedly made in principle, over a single document, by technical experts from both sides. However, “there will remain some open issues that can only be decided by ministers,” one senior US administration official said on Saturday.Even if all of these sticking points are agreed upon, they must be put in writing in a common text and others remain; still unclear is whether Iran is willing to allow the IAEA managed access – or any access – to its military installations.The West wants Iran to provide the IAEA the access it needs, whenever and wherever, to verify the completeness and correctness of its nuclear declarations.Diplomats have given themselves until Tuesday to seal a final agreement, at which point their interim agreement, capping the crisis, expires.
Michael Wilner reports on nuclear talks from Vienna