Iran and world powers convened nuclear negotiations in Vienna, with both sides trying to lower expectations of an accord coming out of their meeting this week.
Negotiators have an “intensive and difficult” road ahead, Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, said today at a briefing. U.S., British, Chinese, French, German and Russian diplomats, who make up the P5+1 group, are looking for a framework to negotiate a long-term accord with their Iranian counterparts, he said.
“We can only resolve this through negotiations,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today in Vienna in comments broadcast via Skype. U.S. criticism of the interim accord “in the past two months has been less than encouraging,” he said.
Today’s meeting in the Austrian capital is the first since the world powers and Iran struck an historic interim accord last year in Geneva. The Persian Gulf nation, home to the world’s No. 4 proven oil reserves, won a limited reprieve from sanctions in exchange for suspending its most sensitive nuclear work.
While lines of communication have improved between U.S. and Iranian officials since the Nov. 24 accord, wide gaps in trust persist, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be named because of the talks’ sensitivity. Much of this negotiating round will be given to establishing the format and procedure of future discussions, the official said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman held a one-on-one meeting with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi this afternoon, according to U.S. officials, who added that the Iranians also held private meetings with other members of the P5+1 group.
Iran wants to set a timeline for negotiations once the sides have agreed how to manage the various issues separating them. “We don’t want to enter into lengthy discussions,” Araghchi told the state-run IRNA news agency in an interview, adding that working groups may be created to handle negotiations in parallel.
The initial deal, which expires in July and may be extended by another six months if talks advance, gave Iran as much as $7 billion in sanctions relief in return for reductions to its enriched-uranium stockpile. Limits to uranium enrichment, plutonium production, international inspections and Iran’s alleged weapons work need to be resolved in a long-term accord.
“There still is a lack of trust between us and the Americans but our problems aren’t insurmountable,” Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani was cited as saying in an interview published today by France’s Le Figaro newspaper. “The U.S. and EU are worried that Iran gets nuclear weapons; as for us we don’t want to be restricted from our right to enrichment.”