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Iran Seeks Faster Sanctions Relief as Zarif Makes Video Appeal

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Iran is pushing to accelerate U.S. and European sanctions relief with just four days left to resolve nuclear talks in Vienna, as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a lasting accord has “never been closer.”

Negotiators haven’t yet agreed on the scale and speed of sanctions relief, nor have they settled all the steps Iran must take, according to four diplomats from countries participating in the negotiations. They asked not to be named in line with rules. One of the diplomats said Iran may get substantial sanctions relief by December, while others said sanctions are unlikely to be eased before 2016.

“At this 11th hour, despite some differences that remain, we have never been closer to a lasting outcome,” Zarif said in a video released Friday and filmed on a terrace at the Palais Coburg in Vienna, where the talks are being held. The foreign minister earlier told Al Monitor website that “the deal will be made or broken on whether the United States wants to lift the sanctions or keep them.”

The six world powers negotiating with Iran have postponed their deadline for an accord to July 7, and all sides are signaling that goal is within reach. The plan would ease sanctions on Iran’s economy, in return for curbs on its nuclear work.

Foreign ministers are due to reconvene in the Austrian capital on Sunday to start hammering out the final sticking points. A senior U.S. official said it’s conceivable that process could extend past July 7.

‘Agreement or Coercion’

Zarif, who made similar recorded appeals last year and in 2013, said an agreement will “open new horizons to address important, common challenges” such as the threat of Islamic State. He said Iran’s interlocutors must choose between “agreement or coercion.”

The Iranians’ attempt to get faster lifting of sanctions is feasible if they enact curbs on their nuclear program sooner than expected, the officials said. Iran needs to implement wider monitoring protocols, dismantle two-thirds of its nuclear capacity and eliminate 97 percent of its enriched uranium.

In order to comply with its nuclear requirements, Iran is preparing to sell or swap several thousand kilograms of enriched uranium in return for cash or natural uranium ore, government spokesman Behrooz Kamalvandi told the ISNA news agency.

‘Better Understanding’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday dispatched his chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, to join the talks, though an American official said he hasn’t met anyone with the U.S. delegation. Nahavandian, an economist, was the former head of Iran’s chamber of commerce and has been actively courting foreign investors to return to his country.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, who will need to administer major elements of any deal, also rejoined negotiations after meeting with Rouhani and Ali Shamkhani, a top security official, on Thursday in Tehran.

“Both sides have a better understanding on some ways forward, though more work will be needed,” Amano said Friday in a statement.

In what could turn out to be a significant concession, an Iranian diplomat said on Thursday that his country recognized the right of IAEA monitors to request visits to sensitive sites and ask questions of nuclear officials. He said the Islamic Republic wouldn’t allow itself to be coerced or expose non-nuclear secrets.

Energy-rich Iran needs the agreement to lift trade and financial sanctions that have slashed oil output to the lowest level since 1990 and severely damaged its economy. U.S. President Barack Obama, who has to overcome the objections of skeptics, has said he’d reject a deal that wasn’t good enough.

(For more on the Iran talks, see here.)
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