|Iran, major powers unlikely to meet July deadline for nuclear deal: diplomats||
It is increasingly unlikely that Iran and the six major powers will meet their July 20 deadline to negotiate a long-term deal to help resolve a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, Reuters on Wednesday quoted diplomats and analysts as saying.
In theory, an extension to the high-stakes talks should not be a problem if all sides want it. But President Barack Obama would need to secure the consent of Congress at a time of fraught relations between his administration and lawmakers.
Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China included the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement in an interim deal they reached in Geneva on Nov. 24.
The November agreement - under which Iran scaled back some parts of its nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief - allowed for a six-month extension if more time were needed for a final settlement.
An extension would allow up to half a year more for limited sanctions relief and restraints on Iranian nuclear work as agreed in Geneva. To avoid an open conflict with Congress, Obama would want U.S. lawmakers’ approval to extend sanctions relief.
The latest round of talks in Vienna last month ran into difficulties when it became clear that the number of centrifuge enrichment machines Iran wanted to maintain was well beyond what would be acceptable to the West. That disagreement, envoys said, can be measured in tens of thousands of centrifuges.
As a result, the latest round of Vienna talks made little progress.
Barring a surprise breakthrough in the next round in Vienna on June 16-20, Western officials say an extension is virtually a foregone conclusion. “We’re far apart,” one diplomat said, and the talks will be “long and complicated.”
The two sides said last month that they had intended to start drafting the text of a final agreement but the full-scale drafting did not actually begin.
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the priority for France was to reach a good deal rather than to rush through an agreement.
An Iranian official told Reuters, “We have to get rid of the sanctions immediately. Therefore, the talks will end when this issue is totally resolved. A few more months will kill no one.” Pushing the deadline to October would be fine, he said.
However, the U.S. ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna, Joseph Macmanus, said it was good to have “ambitious deadlines” for negotiations, signaling that Washington remained committed to the agreed July 20 date.
“I think, again and again, you will hear from the U.S. ... that the focus is on reaching a comprehensive solution by July 20. Nothing wrong with an ambitious goal, nothing wrong with working toward that goal,” he told reporters.
The 28-nation European Union - which groups three of the countries negotiating with Iran - said in a statement it would “spare no effort” to achieve the goal of a diplomatic solution by July 20 and “we call on Iran to do the same.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is coordinating the talks on behalf of the six powers.
Iran’s envoy to the UN atomic agency, Reza Najafi, told reporters in the Austrian capital, “We believe that we can meet the deadline ... and we work toward that aim.”
Tehran insists it needs to maintain a domestic uranium enrichment capability to produce fuel for nuclear power plants without having to rely on foreign suppliers.
Western governments and their allies claim Iran may be seeking the ability to produce nuclear weapons with enrichment technology, an allegation the Islamic Republic denies.
No one has an interest in letting the negotiations collapse and boosting the risk of war, said Gary Samore of Harvard University, who was the National Security Council’s top nuclear security official in the first Obama administration.
“Although there will be strong opposition in both Washington and Tehran, I don’t think either side can afford to take the blame for walking away from the table if the other side is prepared to continue,” said Samore.
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