The U.S. and Iran hold the key to a nuclear accord between world powers and the Persian Gulf nation, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, 36 hours before the latest deadline is set to expire.
Wang and top diplomats from France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. joined the negotiations in Vienna on their 10th day. Diplomats who have given themselves until July 7 to strike a deal may need an additional day or two to draft it, Iranian officials told Fars News.
“The comprehensive agreement is within reach,” Wang told reporters as he entered the discussions. “What’s important is that today and tomorrow all parties -- especially the United States and Iran -- should make the final decisions as quickly as possible.”
After almost two years of negotiation, diplomats are closer than ever to sealing an accord that would return energy-rich Iran to world markets while giving regional rivals guarantees that the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work can’t be used to make weapons. Iran says its nuclear program has always been peaceful, a claim the West disputes.
While progress continues to be made, “we are not yet where we need to be on several of the most difficult issues,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Sunday at Vienna’s Palais Coburg, where he met for much of the day with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Among the most contentious issues are the pace of sanctions relief and the lifetime of the “snap-back” mechanism to reimpose sanctions should an accord be violated, said a six-power official at the talks, asking not to be named.
While Iran and world powers agreed April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland to include snap-back provisions “for much of the duration of the deal,” diplomats didn’t provide a specific timeframe. Most major elements of the agreement under negotiation run for 10 years while others extend to 15.
Iran also wants a snap-back mechanism that can be used in the event it doesn’t receive the full sanctions relief it was promised, according to a transcript of an Iranian briefing to journalists on Monday. United Nations Security Council sanctions should be rescinded and an arms embargo lifted, the official said.
“Iran will have to take a lot of steps to implement its nuclear obligations in the first phase compared to the other side,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an interview in Vienna. To compensate for that front loading of commitments, Iran expects to see a large part of its $100 billion in frozen assets abroad returned.
The Iranian official who briefed journalists said while the sides more or less agreed on a framework for the phased lifting of sanctions, a few issues around “simultaneity” of action still needed to be addressed.
Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araghchi, said over the weekend that an 80-page draft agreement with five annexes is in circulation, and foreign ministers now have to make final decisions on timing and reciprocity. Any deal struck in Vienna won’t be final until it’s passed through U.S. and Iranian legislatures, he said.
“If a deal can be closed, it is now,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Sunday. None of the sides has formulated a “Plan B” should the talks collapse, she said.
Much of the past week has involved discussions with International Atomic Energy Agency director general Yukiya Amano. While the IAEA isn’t formally a party to the negotiations, it will play a key role in implementing a final accord.
A five-member IAEA delegation arrived on Monday in Tehran, where they’re negotiating details of the agreement reached with Amano last week, the Mehr news agency reported Iranian spokesman Behrooz Kamalvandi as saying. The agency team is meeting officials from the Supreme National Security Council, indicating they may be negotiating managed access to non-nuclear sites of interest.
On Saturday, Amano said the IAEA can close its 12-year probe into the possible military dimensions of past nuclear work in Iran, providing officials cooperate.