Iran Nuclear Talks Seen on Track for Accord by July

Iran and six powers said they are optimistic a permanent accord on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program is possible before their interim deal expires in July, after talks described as the most detailed so far.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today in joint statements that negotiators will reconvene April 7 in Vienna, where two days of talks concluded today. They have set a July 20 target for a final accord that will limit the scope of Iran’s nuclear work and lift sanctions.

Iran expects that by late April or early May, negotiators will “start the drafting of the final document,” Zarif told reporters today. This week’s talks were the deepest to date, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. The official, as well as diplomats from France and Germany supported the idea that an accord is possible before the July 20 deadline.

This week in Vienna, negotiators tried to set parameters for Iran’s uranium-enrichment work, addressed concerns over a heavy-water reactor in Arak and discussed sanctions relief. World powers are concerned that the highly enriched uranium and plutonium Iran would be capable of producing might be used for nuclear weapons.

Iran says it has no intention of building a bomb, while the U.S. and Israel have warned that they’re ready to use military force to prevent it from doing so.

Economy Pressure

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure to lift sanctions that have slashed oil output and caused a currency slump.

“Rouhani’s government is sincere about wanting to resolve the nuclear issue in six months’ time,” Alireza Nader, an analyst at the Rand Corp., said today on a conference call from Washington. “They face real problems in fixing the economy unless sanctions are lifted.”

Sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and EU this week over the Crimea crisis didn’t interfere with this week’s sessions, according to the U.S. official.

“Things seem to be moving faster than expected,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology international security specialist Jim Walsh today on a conference call. The talks are “mostly ahead of schedule.”

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