Iran and world powers are holding a series of unscheduled talks to revive momentum for an accord on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program even as the French foreign minster said the two sides have “hit a wall.”
Laurent Fabius said talks to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of sanctions have reached an impasse, as U.S. and Iranian officials concluded two days of talks in Geneva.
“We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point which is the number of centrifuges which allow enrichment,” Fabius said in a radio interview. “We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands so we’re not in the same framework.”
The Iran-U.S. negotiations were needed because “we are at a critical juncture in the talks” and time is running short, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington yesterday. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said they were “held in a positive and constructive atmosphere,” the Iranian news agency IRNA reported. Difference still remain, Araghchi said after 12 hours of meetings with American diplomats.
Iranian negotiators will meet with their French counterparts in Geneva tomorrow morning, France’s Foreign Ministry said. After that they will fly to Rome to meet with Russian officials, IRNA reported, quoting Araghchi. German nuclear envoy Hans-Dieter Lucas will travel to Tehran from June 13-15 and meet Iranian officials to prepare the next round of negotiations on the Iran nuclear program that’s scheduled to start on June 16 in Vienna, according to the German embassy in Washington.
The nuclear accord came under scrutiny at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington.
“Iran’s stated desire is to increase from its roughly 19,000 centrifuges today to over 50,000,” said Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the committee. “Iran’s willingness to come clean on its past weapons program should be an acid test for Western negotiators.”
The drive toward a final accord with Iran stumbled at the latest round of talks with world powers in Vienna last month, endangering the progress made since November’s preliminary agreement. With that process due to resume in Vienna next week, the additional meetings reflect growing urgency as the July 20 target for a deal nears.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Deputy National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan took part in the meetings in Geneva. The two men were part of the secret direct talks the U.S. held with Iran last year.
The U.S. and its allies want an accord that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“What’s at stake is to make sure Iran wants to abandon its project to have a nuclear bomb,” Fabius said.
The interim accord reached in Geneva in November expires on July 20. The Obama administration and Iran have said they are open to an extension to allow more time for obtaining a final agreement, a point that Araghchi reiterated yesterday. The U.S. Congress, though, has threatened new sanctions if a final deal isn’t completed by then.