TEHRAN – Iran and the major powers started a new round of talks in Vienna on Wednesday in pursuit of a comprehensive deal to resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, which has dragged on for over a decade.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates the talks on behalf of the six major powers, held a meeting on Wednesday evening.
Later Zarif, Ashton, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns also held a trilateral meeting on the same day.
In a video message posted on YouTube, Zarif said Iran is “willing to take concrete measures to guarantee that our nuclear program will always remain peaceful.”
“To those who continue to believe that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, I can only say that pressure has been tried for the past 8 years, in fact for the past 35 years,” the chief diplomat noted.
He added, “It didn’t bring the Iranian people to kneel in submission. And it will not now nor in the future.”
‘Iran will not accept excessive demands’
Upon arrival in the Austrian capital on Wednesday morning, Zarif also said Iranian negotiators have come to Vienna fully prepared to reach an agreement.
The chief Iranian nuclear negotiator expressed hope that the other side would show the required political will to reach an agreement.
He also said that excessive demands on the part of the major powers will block the progress of the talks, adding that Iran will not accept excessive demands.
In addition, he said that Iran does not want anything more than its rights.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif said Iran is ready to allay concerns about its nuclear activities.
The talks, which are expected to continue at least until July 15, are meant to build on a landmark interim nuclear deal Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) clinched last November in Geneva.
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 powers have set a July 20 deadline to clinch a long-term comprehensive nuclear deal. The deadline can be extended by another half year if both sides agree.
Iran and the 5+1 group held an intense round of nuclear talks from June 16 to 20 in Vienna. Although the two sides were seriously engaged in the negotiations, only a moderate amount of progress was made in the most recent round of talks, and the two sides only managed to draw up a “working document” which is “heavily bracketed” due to the remaining disagreements.
The main stumbling block to reaching a final nuclear agreement by the July 20 deadline is the issue of the number of centrifuges, although there are some other sticking points, including the types of centrifuges Iran uses, the mechanism for lifting the sanctions, and the duration of the implementation of the final deal.
Iran may accept short-term constraints
Iran may accept some short-term constraints on its nuclear program for a specified period of time under a comprehensive nuclear agreement to build up confidence, a senior Iranian negotiator said in an interview with ISNA which was published on Wednesday.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi also said that both Iran and the major powers will be winners if the talks lead to a comprehensive deal which would provide guarantees that Tehran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful and would envisage a peaceful uranium enrichment program for Iran and the lifting of sanctions against the country.
No deal if Iran’s red lines not observed
In a separate interview with ISNA published on Wednesday, another senior Iranian negotiator said that Iran and the major powers will not be able to reach an agreement if Tehran’s red lines are not observed.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi said that a deal can be struck if the other side engages in the negotiations in “good faith” and if Iran’s “nuclear rights” are upheld.