Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejoined nuclear talks, accompanied by the president’s brother and backed by the nation’s supreme leader, as the push for an accord with world powers entered its final stage.
“I am here to get a final deal and I think we can,” Zarif told reporters on Tuesday in Vienna while sitting beside U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry inside the Palais Coburg, where the majority of the negotiations are taking place.
In a show of support, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei posted a picture on Twitter of Zarif and Iran’s envoys to the talks dressed in white scientists’ coats. “I recognize our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful,” Khamenei said in an accompanying statement.
Iran, holder of the world’s No. 4 oil and No. 2 natural gas reserves, is seeking the lifting of trade and financial sanctions that have hobbled its economy. For the U.S. and Persian Gulf nations wary of Iran’s influence, a deal would restrict its ability to make nuclear weapons and give monitors early warning if it ever tried to do so. Iran says it program is entirely peaceful.
Zarif, who left the Austrian capital on Sunday for talks with Iran’s top leaders over remaining hurdles to an agreement, also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was scheduled to have talks with Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, was also set to join discussions.
“This is the most crucial round of this 22-month long process,” said Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It is not surprising that the Iranians need to have all hands on deck.”
Negotiators originally wanted to reach a deal by June 30. But officials warned ahead of this round of talks that they’d likely need more time and on Monday confirmed an extension would be needed. As talks continued Tuesday, the U.S. extended an interim agreement reached in November until July 7.
The pact gave Iran limited access to frozen overseas funds along with some lifting of trade sanctions. In return, Iran suspended its most sensitive nuclear activities and agreed to reduce its uranium stockpiles.
“With each missed deadline, there is less contention about the implications,” said Kelsey Davenport, a director at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, in Vienna. “The stakes are too high to walk away from the talks.”
Citing continued progress, U.S. and European diplomats said Monday that they see a path to a comprehensive deal within days. The accord nearing completion contains many pages along with annexes, a U.S. administration official said while asking not to be named in line with diplomatic rules.
The participation of Amano, who has drawn the ire of Iranian authorities because of the IAEA’s investigatory role into the country’s past atomic work, suggests that the sides are tackling the most contentious issues separating them.
Diplomats over the weekend said it would be essential to rebuild trust between the IAEA and Iran for the deal to move forward. Nuclear inspectors complain that the Islamic Republic isn’t forthcoming enough when it comes to clearing up suspicions around the possible military dimensions of its past nuclear activity.
Before all international sanctions are lifted, the IAEA will have to provide an assessment of Iran’s past, verify that Iran has taken steps agreed upon and implement a monitoring system.
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