Efforts to reach a nuclear accord with Iran gathered pace as the head of the United Nations’ atomic energy agency tried to sweep away hurdles in Tehran and foreign ministers from world powers joined negotiations in Vienna.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, traveled to Iran to try to win consent for probes that would clarify whether the country’s nuclear past had a military dimension. He met with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who helps to oversee the military, and is to sit down with President Hassan Rouhani later Thursday.
The foreign ministers of China, France, Germany, the U.K. and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini were all scheduled to join U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna.
As he re-joined the discussions, U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, “I don’t think we are at any kind of breakthrough moment yet, but the work is continuing and we will do whatever we need to do to keep the momentum.”
Six days into the final round of negotiations, diplomats say progress is building around an agreement that would eventually lift Iranian sanctions in return for nuclear curbs. The U.S. and Europe extended their interim agreement with Iran until July 7 to try to win time to clinch a deal.
Zarif looked relaxed and upbeat as he made his first appearance on a second-floor terrace of the ornate facade of the Palais Coburg. Standing in the sunshine by an Iranian flag, he smiled when a reporter shouted a question, asking whether he was confident of a deal.
“I have to be hopeful,” he replied. Zarif has prepared a video message to be broadcast on YouTube on Thursday evening, according to Iranian press reports.
Some ministers may return to capitals as early as Thursday night for final consultations, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi told Iranian journalists, the Iranian Students News Agency reported. No decision has been made on when they might return.
In Tehran, Amano made the case that Iran and his agency have to move beyond their points of contention and speed up cooperation, according to ISNA. Shamkhani told the news agency that as long as the IAEA sticks to technical matters, “Iran is ready to work closely.”
“Amano is under pressure on finding a way out on the possible military dimension investigation,” said Tariq Rauf, a former IAEA official who also negotiated with Iran and is now a director at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “His options are limited.”
The IAEA has sought information linking Iran’s military to its civilian nuclear program. It has been denied a return visit to the Parchin military complex, where investigators claim to have credible evidence that nuclear-related experiments took place.
The world powers want to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful and have been adamant about maintaining a sanctions threat. On Wednesday, diplomats said they secured an arrangement to reimpose United Nations sanctions in the event the Iranians violate any deal.
For Iran, holder of the world’s fourth-biggest oil and second-biggest natural-gas reserves, an agreement would mean a phased end to crippling trade and financial sanctions. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has demanded that economic, financial and banking sanctions be lifted on the same day a deal is signed. He also said he was “pessimistic” about the role of the IAEA.
Iranian officials have rejected allegations that the nuclear program had a military dimension, blaming what they say is bogus intelligence by Israel’s Mossad and the CIA.