World powers, Iran make 'good start' toward final nuclear accord

Iran and 6 world powers finish Vienna talks, set to meet again on March 17; Ashton set to visit Tehran on March 9.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – World powers and Iran reached a framework for political and technical discussions on Thursday concerning the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
The logistical agreement includes a schedule of meetings over the next four months between the arbitrating parties, as well as issues determined to be legitimate topics for negotiation.
Future meetings will take place in Vienna, a change of scenery for negotiators who ironed out an interim deal last November in Geneva. That deal effectively froze Iran’s nuclear work for six months, while the parties attempted to negotiate a final settlement to the long-standing nuclear crisis.
Asked whether Iran agreed to discuss the closure of its mountain- burrowed nuclear facility in Fordow, its heavy-water reactor facility in Arak and its willingness to dismantle other parts of its program – all conditions outlined by the United States as top priorities entering talks in Vienna – a State Department official told The Jerusalem Post that “all of the issues that need to be addressed were identified.”
“A timetable for meetings over the next four months, in addition to a framework to continue deliberations, was agreed,” the official confirmed.
On Tuesday, the first day of talks, Iranian officials renewed a redline consistently issued to domestic audiences in Iran leading up to Vienna: their government will never dismantle “any facilities” key to its nuclear program – now spanning over 20,000 centrifuges wide and with a viable plutonium track under construction.
But US and Iranian officials have agreed to “be thoughtful” in how they cast their positions for domestic political consumption, a US official said on Thursday.
“Everybody in this negotiation, all of the countries in this negotiation, have domestic audiences, have partners, have points of view, have perspectives,” a senior administration official told journalists in Vienna. “What we have agreed to try to do is to be thoughtful about the impact those statements will have on the negotiation.
“What matters is what we do in the end, and what we agree to at the negotiating table,” the official added, as opposed to what is said in public.
“We have agreed on how we’re going to proceed, what topics we’re going to address,” the senior official, closely involved in the talks, added.
“We have made those decisions and choices, and we must because we need to prepare for these things and get ready and do the hard work in each of our governments.”
Technical, nuclear and sanctions experts will meet in early March, followed by a second senior-level meeting of the P5+1 – US, UK, Germany, China, France and Russia – the EU and Iran on March 17.
Wendy Sherman, the US under secretary of state for political affairs and America’s lead negotiator in the Iran talks, will travel from Vienna to Jerusalem, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Dubai to brief allies concerned with Iran’s nuclear program on the progress of negotiations.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Thursday that Iran has thus far complied with the Joint Plan of Action, and that its higher-grade stockpile of uranium, enriched to 20 percent, has declined significantly for the first time in four years.
Meanwhile, a US official told Reuters that, regardless of the outcome of the talks, a US embargo on Iranian oil would remain in effect until a deeper rapprochement took place between the two nations, at long odds since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
“The American domestic oil embargo is expected to remain in place even if a comprehensive agreement is reached,” the official said, speaking after Iran and world powers agreed on the framework.
Reuters contributed to this report.