VIENNA – Iran and the six major powers started a decisive round of nuclear talks on Wednesday in Vienna to begin drawing up the draft of a final nuclear deal which is aimed at resolving a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The talks come after three rounds of preliminary negotiations held over the past three months, in which the two sides discussed general issues and expressed their expectations from each other.
The Vienna talks are meant to build on the interim deal that Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) struck in Geneva in November 2013.
Under the Geneva deal, Iran agreed not to expand its nuclear program for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The agreement came into force on January 20. Iran and the major powers have set a July 20 deadline to clinch a long-term nuclear deal.
Analysts and diplomats have said that some issues such as Tehran’s nuclear research and development program, the future of the country’s nuclear facilities, the country’s uranium enrichment capacity, and the timeline for the implementation of the final deal and the lifting of sanctions may emerge as sticking points during the process of writing the final accord.
Iran will not give up nuclear rights
After a working dinner with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates talks on behalf of the 5+1 group, on Tuesday night, the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator told reporters that Tehran will not relinquish its nuclear rights.
“W have said that we do not want anything more than our rights, but we will not give up our rights because we have not been seeking to acquire nuclear weapons,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, adding, “We do not believe that nuclear weapons are useful for our security.”
Zarif also said, “This round of talks is more sensitive because we will start drafting. The drafting phase requires that the two sides enter negotiations self-confidently and be assured of the other side’s approach.”
He went on to say that Iran and the major powers will be able to reach a final agreement by July 20 if the other side enters the talks in good faith and adopts a realistic approach.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif reiterated that Iran’s defense program and its defense equipment are not up for negotiation.
In addition, he said that Iran and the six powers will hold at least three rounds of intensive political-level talks over the next two months to hammer out a final deal.
Tehran will accept no limit on its nuclear research and development
During a press briefing on Tuesday night, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that Tehran will not accept any restrictions on its nuclear research and development program, adding that Iran will never halt the program.
He also said that U.S. officials must take tough decisions during the process of talks and abandon the policy of using pressure, threats, and sanctions against other countries.
In addition, he said that the foreign ministers of the 5+1 group may join the next round of talks if need be.
A senior U.S. diplomat told reporters on the eve of the Vienna talks that the negotiations will be “very, very difficult.”
“I would caution people that just because we will be drafting it certainly does not mean an agreement is imminent or that we are certain to eventually get to a resolution.”
After the opening session of the Vienna talks, a spokesman for the European Union said that negotiators held a useful initial discussion on Wednesday morning and will hold coordination meetings later in the day.
“We are now hoping to move to a new phase of negotiations in which we will start pulling together what the outline of an agreement could be. All sides are highly committed,” Michael Mann said.
Reuters quoted some diplomats from the powers as saying that progress in the coming talks will be slow. And any agreement may come only at the 11th hour. “It’s very difficult to say how it will all work in practice now. We have no agenda but that’s not different from any other meeting,’ said one.
“The figures will come at the end. They will be part of the big bargaining,” he said, referring to decisions about issues such as the number of centrifuges to remain in Iran.
“All the parameters are interdependent,” one diplomat said.