Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
VIENNA – The foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and the European Union all said on Thursday that a final nuclear agreement with Iran is not yet guaranteed, with some key political questions still unanswered.
But speaking to Western journalists here in the Austrian capital, a senior Iranian diplomat said that significant progress had been made on issues that were considered sticking points only days ago.
Iran is willing to grant the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, access to the “people and places” it seeks in order to verify the correctness and completeness of Iran’s future nuclear declarations, he said.
So far in the talks, “managed access” has been a term with varying definitions – too opaque for a final text of a nuclear deal.
Western powers seek to achieve the access required by the IAEA to complete its job, while Iran has ruled out any inspections to its military sites.
But Tehran on Thursday seemed to walk back that line, for the first time saying that its real priority is to maintain the secrecy of Iran’s conventional military capabilities.
The IAEA seeks to find a balance in its inspections of conventional military sites across the territories of over 120 signatory nations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, who have also agreed to participate in the group’s additional protocols, which call for such access.
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Asked by The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday whether the US seeks an unambiguous acknowledgment from Iran that the IAEA’s protocols grant it access to its military sites, a senior US administration official suggested that world powers had worked out a mechanism.
“We have worked out a process that we believe will ensure that the IAEA has the access it needs,” the official said.
The two-year diplomatic effort has entered its endgame, now two days past a self-imposed deadline for world powers and Iran to reach a comprehensive accord.
The deal, if adopted, will govern Iran’s nuclear work for over a decade. In turn, Iran will receive over $100 billion in sanctions relief.
The arrival of Europe’s ministers in Vienna, where US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been for days, coincided with a critical meeting in Tehran between the head of the IAEA and Iran’s president.
EU high representative on foreign affairs Federica Mogherini called the IAEA meeting in Iran “very important.”
“The effort of all parties to reach success is genuine,” Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said.
“The open question, which I cannot answer you yet, is whether the will and courage will be sufficient among all at the end.”
China’s foreign minister arrived on Thursday and said that he believed a final deal could be reached by July 7, when an interim nuclear deal – the Joint Plan of Action – is scheduled to expire.
France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, left Vienna on Thursday after a day of meetings. He said he would return on Sunday, hopefully to close the deal, strongly suggesting the talks will extend through the weekend.
“We are not at the end of the negotiations,” Fabius said upon his departure. “I hope that at that stage we will be in a situation to move, perhaps, and I hope so, to find a definitive solution that will enable a robust agreement.”
And Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, confirmed to the press there would be movement over several days.
“The work goes on,” Hammond said. “You are going to see ministers coming and going to maintain the momentum of these discussions. I don’t think we’re at any kind of breakthrough moment yet and we will do whatever we need to do to keep the momentum.”
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