Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program hit another road bump in Vienna, where diplomats extended talks to try to resolve differences over an arms embargo and provisions to renew sanctions.
World powers and Iran extended the terms of an interim accord from midnight Tuesday until July 10, U.S. State Department senior adviser Marie Harf said in an e-mail. Relief for Iran from oil, banking and other costly sanctions will be delayed by at least a month if a final agreement isn’t reached by midnight July 9.
“We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock, though we also know that difficult decisions won’t get any easier with time,” Harf said. “That is why we are continuing to negotiate.”
All sides say they’ve gotten closer to a deal after 11 days of high-level talks in the Austrian capital. For energy-rich Iran, an agreement could speed its return to world oil markets and lift financial sanctions. In the U.S. and Gulf region, where suspicion of Iran runs high, a deal would restrict the Islamic Republic’s ability to pursue nuclear weapons, should it ever decide to do so.
“The closer you get, the parties get more interested in securing concessions from the other side,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a briefing, noting about 10 issues still separate the sides but that an agreement was close. “We are not observing artificial deadlines.”
The top remaining disputes are over Iranian demands to lift a United Nations arms embargo and a mechanism that would allow the renewal of sanctions in case of Iranian cheating, Lavrov said. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after talks adjourned that disagreements remain over nuclear research and development limits.
“The entire agreement right now is at the mercy of a miscalculation on either side,” said International Crisis Group analyst Ali Vaez in a Vienna interview. “There won’t be a deal until the last minute, while each side waits for the other to blink first.”
Foreign ministers including Fabius and Lavrov are expected to leave negotiations and will come back as needed, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
“An agreement is still possible,” she said.
Diplomats have now missed five of their self-imposed deadlines. Failure to reach an accord by July 9 would extend the necessary Congressional review period to 60 days from 30 days and dim the possibility that Iran could win substantial sanctions relief this year.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which would need to verify and monitor any accord, agreed on a plan that will give inspectors more leeway to clear-up past suspicions, Iran’s Mehr News cited Iranian spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi as saying.
Iran and the five-member IAEA team agreed on ways to “facilitate technical interaction,” Kamalvandi said. The IAEA reported over the weekend that it can clear up suspicions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past by year’s end.
Should negotiators meet their deadlines, it would set the clock ticking on reciprocal steps between Iran and the six powers that could see “substantial” sanctions relief by December, according to one diplomat. Other officials said Iran may not get significant sanctions relief until 2016.