U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, added another meeting today in Vienna in the push toward an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The talks in Vienna also involve diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Ashton continues to lead negotiations with Iran on behalf of the international community despite the end of her term as EU high representative, aiming to reach a “comprehensive” long-term agreement by 24 November
There is still a significant gap between the two parties in IranTalks as deadline nears. Iran has about 10,000 of uranium enrichment centrifuges in operation. Iranian officials have refused to reduce the volume of uranium they are capable of enriching, a stand Western officials say is unacceptable as this would potentially allow Tehran to amass enough fissile material for an atomic bomb in little time.
Western diplomats and experts at Irantalks in Vienna told Reuters earlier this week that a U.S.-drafted proposal shown to Iran at preparatory talks in Oman earlier this month called for the Islamic Republic to reduce the number of its uranium enrichment centrifuges to 4,500, well below the current 19,000 Tehran now has installed.
Another factor is how transparent the program is. U.N. nuclear inspectors currently have unprecedented access to Iran’s main nuclear facilities; for the West, the greater the access those inspectors have, the more confidence the world can have that Iran’s nuclear program is as peaceful as it has always claimed. This has been primarily an issue for the IAEA, which has several questions about past Iranian research and experiments. Experts say it’s very likely Tehran did have a weapons program dating back to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Tehran has already won a major concession from the international side, which acknowledged last November that Iran would be permitted to keep some form of uranium enrichment program. Now the questions are how big should it be, and how long should it be under international restriction. The sticking point is the pace and sequencing of sanctions relief. Iran wants them terminated swiftly, not suspended and gradually scrapped, depending on the degree of Iranian compliance with the deal terms, as the West wants. Another dispute is over the deal’s duration — The Western powers want it to be up to 20 years, Iran wants this much shorter. This is a major sticking point in the talks with Iran and there is still a significant gap between the two parties as deadline nears.
That November pact will expire on Monday, November 24th. As the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues, officials close to the negotiations in Vienna said – To secure durable and comprehensive agreement diplomats might need to extend the deadline. So whatever happens this week will be a big deal.