|Drafting of Iran nuclear deal will begin in May: U.S. official||
TEHRAN – A senior U.S. administration official said on Friday that the drafting of a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program will begin in May, the Washington Post reported.
The official also said that significant gaps remain between international negotiators and Iran over its nuclear program, but talks that began early this year are “getting down to the serious business.”
“I’m absolutely convinced that we can” complete a deal by a July 20 deadline, the official said, “although the real issue is not whether you can write the words on paper… it’s about the choices that Iran has to make. Some of them are very difficult.”
The official spoke as high-level negotiators prepared to return next week to Vienna for a third round of talks between Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). The European Union also is participating in the negotiations.
Iran and the six major powers clinched an interim deal in Geneva on November 24, 2013, according to which Iran agreed not to expand its nuclear program for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
The Geneva agreement was designed to provide time to negotiate a comprehensive solution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. The interim agreement came into force on January 20.
Iran and the major powers agreed on a timetable and framework for negotiating a final deal during their talks in Vienna from February 18 to 20.
Negotiations on a final nuclear deal that began on January 20 are to be completed within six months, although the agreement allows for an extension if progress is being made.
Negotiators on all sides have publicly praised the substance and seriousness of the talks, including Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the chief U.S. negotiator, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Outside of the closed-door sessions, however, there have been calls in the United States and Iran for a tough line. Some Iranian officials have said that they will never give up a heavy-water reactor and the ability to enrich uranium. Numerous lawmakers in the United States have said that neither can be part of a final agreement, even under strict safeguards.
The senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity to brief reporters on administration views, brushed off those concerns. “We’re quite direct and quite straightforward with each other, so I don’t think there’s any mystery about positions. And what we are focused on is what is discussed in the room, not what anyone says on the outside.”
“We know where we can see points of agreement,” the official said. “We know where the gaps are that have to be bridged. But I’ve also said this is a Rubik’s Cube, and where one makes progress on one element may mean there’s more trade space on another element.”
The official declined to provide specifics about the negotiations but said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and I would add to that nothing is agreed till everyone agrees to it.”
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