|Iran, major powers extend nuclear talks for four months||
TEHRAN – Iran and the major powers have agreed to extend nuclear talks for four more months after failing to meet a July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal to resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, Iran and the European Union announced on Saturday.
The announcement came after nearly three weeks of intensive talks in Vienna, which were meant to build on an interim nuclear deal that Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) clinched in Geneva last November. Under the Geneva accord, Iran and the six major powers set a July 20 deadline to strike a final deal. The deadline could be extended as long as six months if the two sides agreed.
Under the Geneva agreement, Iran agreed to scale down parts of its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The deal came into force on January 20.
“We will reconvene in the coming weeks in different formats with the clear determination to reach agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (long-term agreement) at the earliest possible moment,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a joint statement read out during a press conference in the Austrian capital in the early hours of Saturday.
“We have made tangible progress on some of the issues,” Zarif and Ashton said. But, they said, “There are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort.”
Zarif also said that Iran and the major powers will continue fulfilling their commitments under the Geneva agreement during the period of extended talks.
The extension begins on July 21 and runs through November 24.
The extension of the talks will enable Iran to access 2.8 billion dollars of its frozen overseas funds. Iran received 4.2 billion dollars of its money blocked in foreign accounts as part of the Geneva deal over the past six months.
During a press conference with Iranian journalists after the end of the Vienna talks, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said that Iran will receive 2.8 billion dollars of its frozen assets in six tranches over the next four months.
Iran will get the first installment in August, he said.
The senior nuclear negotiator also said that Iran has also committed to convert its stockpile of uranium enriched to a purity level of 20 percent, which was oxidized over the past six months, into nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Araqchi said that one of the main sticking points in the talks is the future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program, adding that a final deal must take account of Iran’s plan to develop an industrial-scale uranium enrichment program.
“The outlook for Iran’s nuclear program is an industrial (program) not a symbolic one, (a point that) must be taken into consideration in any solution,” he said.
According to Reuters, the White House said there was a “credible prospect for a comprehensive deal” with Iran over its nuclear program that made it necessary to extend the talks.
“This extension will allow us to continue the negotiations while ensuring that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program remains halted during the negotiations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.
“We have an opportunity to achieve a lasting, diplomatic solution that will resolve one of the most pressing national security issues of our time. We will not accept anything less than a comprehensive resolution that meets our objectives, which is why it is necessary for negotiations to continue.”
Reuters also quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying on Saturday it hoped the extension on nuclear talks would convince Tehran to make the “indispensable choices” needed to reach a long term deal.
“France hopes that this new deadline will allow Iran to make indispensable choices that we are expecting in order to reach a long-term, credible and lasting agreement,” he said in a statement during a visit to Egypt.
“The discussions with Iran have seen some progress on certain points, but major differences remain on several subjects, uranium enrichment in particular,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also issued a statement after it was announced that the talks had been extended.
The following are excerpts of the statement:
As I said on Monday in Vienna, it is clear to me that we have made tangible progress in our comprehensive negotiations, but there are very real gaps in some areas. Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues, but there are still a number of brackets and blank spaces in that text.
Still, there are very real gaps on issues such as enrichment capacity ... This issue is an absolutely critical component of any potential comprehensive agreement.
Diplomacy takes time, and persistence is needed to determine whether we can achieve our objectives peacefully. To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully.
While we’ve made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time.
As a result, we have decided – along with the EU, our P5+1 partners, and Iran – to extend the Joint Plan of Action until November 24, exactly one year since we finalized the first step agreement in Geneva. This will give us a short amount of additional time to continue working to conclude a comprehensive agreement, which we believe is warranted by the progress we’ve made and the path forward we can envision.
Under this short extension, all parties have committed to upholding their obligations in the Joint Plan of Action. For the next four months, we will continue to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program in key areas. In addition, Iran has committed to take further nuclear-related steps in the next four months that are consistent with the types of steps that they committed to in the JPOA. These include a continued cap on the amount of 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and a commitment to convert any material over that amount into oxide.
In the JPOA, Iran diluted half of its 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and converted the rest to oxide. In this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension.
In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to 2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment.
Ultimately, our goal in pursuing this brief extension is to capitalize on the progress we’ve already made, while giving us the best chance of success at the end of this process.
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