Iran Nuclear Talks Hit Critical Juncture With Kerry to Join

Nuclear talks with Iran reach a critical juncture this weekend with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joining diplomats to see if an impasse in negotiations can be broken.

Kerry arrives in Vienna tomorrow, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. Officials from China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S -- the so-called P5+1 -- are meeting with Iran in the Austrian capital in a bid to clinch a permanent accord over Iran’s nuclear work before an interim deal expires July 20.

“If Kerry is to help resolve the deadlock, instead of trying to narrow the unbridgeable gap over Iran’s enrichment capacity, he should try to broaden the options,” Ali Vaez, an Istanbul-based senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, said in a written response to questions. “Both sides know that there is real cost to declaring failure.”

Following 10 days of talks, diplomats haven’t shown they are any closer to solving their most intractable disagreements. Iran says it wants to expand uranium-enrichment work that can be used to fuel nuclear reactors. The U.S. and its allies want the Persian Gulf nation to reduce enrichment activities, which can also yield material for nuclear weapons.

European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who together with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif convened the talks, invited top diplomats to participate earlier in the week. The offices of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague also confirmed participation.

Lavrov Away

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi wasn’t certain he’d attend, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is visiting Latin America with President Vladimir Putin and won’t attend the meeting, his office said yesterday.

“It could be that they have reached a critical stage and think that having foreign ministers present could move things in the right direction,” said Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. negotiator now at Washington’s Brookings Institution, in a July 9 telephone interview.

Last year in Geneva, where diplomats agreed to a six-month accord capping Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief, foreign ministers also flew in to seal the agreement.

While Iran has said it’s willing to modify a reactor and allow wider international inspections, it insists on keeping uranium-enrichment options open.

Production Ability

Iranian officials “don’t want to carry out all the enrichment inside Iran but the other parties must know that if some day they don’t give us the fuel for power plants, Iran has the ability to produce it,” Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said earlier this week in Tehran

Options for compromise exist, Carnegie Endowment’s nuclear-policy director George Perkovich wrote in an op-ed published today by the Washington Post. Russia, which built Iran’s sole nuclear-power plant in Bushehr, could send “several years’ worth” of nuclear fuel for Iran to keep on inventory, he wrote.

“Time may not allow for agreement on these and other outstanding issues before the July 20 deadline,” Perkovich said. “The alternative -- a breakdown in diplomacy and resumption of destabilizing nuclear activity in Iran -- could be a tragedy of global dimensions.”

Congress Warns

Congressional leaders sent U.S. President Barack Obama a letter on July 9 saying that any deal “must verifiably ensure that Iran is denied an undetectable nuclear weapons breakout ability.” Even if the sides reach a nuclear deal, sanctions tied to Iran’s ballistic-missile work and support of terrorist groups may not be lifted, the letter said.

“There remains deep skepticism on both sides and influential forces aligning against a deal,” Paul Ingram, Executive Director of the British-American Security Information Council, said in an e-mail. “Complete failure is highly unattractive but a comprehensive solution will also be elusive.”

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