|Iran talks may extend beyond six-month goal: Ashton||
TEHRAN – The six powers negotiating a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will take the time they need to seal what will be an “extremely difficult” accord even if that means extending their six-month objective, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said on Sunday.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Baroness Ashton who is the chief negotiator for the group, said a final deal must make the international community “certain” that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.
On November 24, Iran and the six powers sealed an interim six-month accord which saw Iran pledge to scale back some of its advanced nuclear activities in exchange for an easing of Western sanctions. That deal took force January 20. The deal can be rolled over after six months by mutual consent, but Iranian and Western officials said they hope to seal a comprehensive accord within 180 days.
Baroness Ashton said everyone is “conscious” of the six-month goal.
“But everyone will say to you, and rightly so, this is extremely difficult. We have no guarantees in this, and we will take the time that is necessary to get this to be the right agreement,” she said.
Privately, western officials are doubtful that an agreement can be sealed in the coming months given the complexity of the issues.
Some diplomats think it could take many months just to draw up a draft text for serious negotiations. Baroness Ashton is due to step down as EU foreign policy chief in October.
Iran says its nuclear program is for purely civilian, energy purposes and denies all accusations it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran negotiates with the so-called P5+1 group — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.
An extension of the talks could escalate pressure in U.S. Congress for fresh Iran sanctions and would mean the continuation of negotiations during November’s midterm vote.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said on Sunday in Munich he is confident the U.S. Senate won’t vote to approve new Iran sanctions any time soon.
The first round of talks for a final deal will take place in Vienna on Feb. 18.
Baroness Ashton said the main focus of those talks will be the format and timeline for the talks.
Both she and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met this weekend in Munich with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Iranian officials have said repeatedly they aren’t prepared to see the country’s nuclear infrastructure dismantled as part of a final deal, whereas Israel and some members of Congress are calling for many of the nearly 20,000 centrifuges Iran has to be scrapped.
Baroness Ashton wouldn’t be pressed on likely P5+1 demands but said “the international concerns need to be fully addressed and the confidence that people need to have in the peaceful nature of the Iranian program needs to be certain.”
The EU foreign policy chief said she will go to Iran some point in the next few weeks after the next round of talks.
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