TEHRAN – Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) made a “good start” in talks in Vienna towards reaching a final settlement in the decade-old stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The two sides said on Thursday they agreed during meetings this week in the Austrian capital of Vienna on what to discuss and a preliminary timetable for the talks on such an accord, Reuters reported
“We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters.
“There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy but we have made a good start,” said Ashton, who speaks on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Senior diplomats from the six nations, as well as Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, will meet again on March 17, also in Vienna, and have a series of further discussions ahead of the July deadline.
As part of the diplomatic process, Ashton will go to Tehran on March 9-10.
In a press conference after the meetings, Zarif told reporters, “Nothing except Iran’s nuclear activities will be discussed in the talks with the (six powers), and we have agreed on it”.
“We have explicitly said that our defensive issues and scientific capabilities are not up for these negotiations,” he said.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif reiterated Tehran’s position that the country will not close any nuclear facility.
He also said, “We have advised the Western sides to be cautious in their talks and refrain from measures and remarks which would increase the Iranian people’s mistrust.”
A senior U.S. official who asked not to be identified said, “This will be a complicated, difficult and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right”.
“We will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get that job done.”
The Vienna talks followed a ground-breaking interim accord between Iran and the six powers in November under which Tehran agreed to limit its higher-level enrichment until late July in return for limited relief from sanctions.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday the meetings had been “constructive and useful.”
The UN nuclear watchdog, which has a critical role in monitoring the agreement’s implementation, issued an update on Thursday showing Iran was living up to its commitments.
The report said that enrichment of uranium to “medium levels” had stopped, and that a part of Iran’s stockpile of that uranium “is being down-blended, and the remainder is being converted to uranium oxide,” as the deal requires. Enrichment to lower levels continues, the agency said, but no additional centrifuges have been installed, and work has been suspended at the Arak heavy-water reactor.
The United States, Israel, and some of their allies accuse Iran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear energy program.
However, the International Atomic Energy Agency has conducted numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities but has never found any evidence showing that Iran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.
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