Iran Nuclear Talks Stall on Enrichment as Deal Delay Weighed

Foreign ministers who arrived today in Vienna may be forced to break their self-imposed July 20 deadline for a long-term solution over the Iranian nuclear conflict, officials on both sides of the dispute said.

Twelve days into negotiations between world powers and Iran, significant gaps remain over the Persian Gulf nation’s uranium-enrichment capacity. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Austrian capital earlier today and will be joined later by his counterparts from France, Germany and the U.K.

“We are trying to find solutions to narrow the differences,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told state-run Isna news agency in Vienna. “Given this context it’s possible that negotiations will be extended by a few days or weeks.”

Uranium enrichment, the industrial process that separates fissile material for nuclear power and bombs, is at the heart of the Iranian nuclear dispute. The Islamic Republic, home to the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, wants future rights to expand enrichment. The U.S. and its allies seek a cut in Iran’s current capacity and caps on production going forward.

“Reaching a political agreement and hammering out all its technical details is no longer possible before the July 20 deadline,” Istanbul-based International Crisis Group analyst Ali Vaez said in an e-mailed reply to questions. “Talks will have to go into overtime.”

Kerry told reporters before meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that there are “still very significant gaps, so we need to see if we can make some progress.”

Interim Accord

The U.S. Secretary will hold talks with top diplomats from France, the U.K. and Germany -- Laurent Fabius, William Hague and Frank-Walter Steinmeier -- later today, according to a U.S. official, who asked not to be named following diplomatic rules. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will also meet Kerry later, according to Isna.

“It is unlikely that there will be a quick breakthrough today,” Hague told reporters in Vienna. Diplomats will try to narrow differences showing “positions are still far apart,” Fabius said to journalists.

The Western group of ministers isn’t convening to negotiate an extension of the November interim accord signed in Geneva, according to another U.S. official close to the talks. Ministers will take stock of the process and see whether it’s possible to reconcile differences, according to the person, who also asked not to be named.

The interim accord capped some Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Iran has said it would resume some of its suspended nuclear activities if a deal cannot be reached. Congress has threatened to impose harsher sanctions on Iran if tangible progress toward a deal isn’t seen.

“Nearly 60 to 70 percent of the drafted agreement is ready,” Araghchi said yesterday. “Enrichment and key points are not ready as disagreements are deep.”

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