VIENNA: Iran and world powers have agreed a timetable and framework for working out a lasting nuclear accord, and will meet again on March 17, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday.
“We had three very productive days during which we have identified all the issues we need to address to reach a comprehensive and final agreement,” Ashton said after the parties met in the Austrian capital.
“There is a lot to do, it won’t be easy but we have made a good start,” Ashton told reporters. “We have set a timetable of meetings, initially over the next four months with a framework to continue our deliberations,” she said.
“Technical experts will meet in early March and we will reconvene for the next E3+3 political directors’ meeting led by... (Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad) Zarif and myself on the 17th of March” in Vienna. The discussions between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany aim to transform a landmark but only interim deal agreed in Geneva in November into a long-term agreement. Under the November deal, which came into force on January 20, Iran froze certain nuclear activities for six months in exchange for minor relief from sanctions and a promise of no new sanctions.
The six-month deal expires on July 20 but can be extended, with the parties aiming to conclude negotiations and implement the final “comprehensive” deal by November.
The aim of the final deal would be for Iran to retain its civilian nuclear programme, but likely on a reduced scale and with enhanced oversight to ensure a dash for nuclear weapons is all but impossible.
Experts say this would likely involve closing the underground Fordo facility, slashing the number of uranium centrifuges, cutting the stockpile of fissile material, altering a new reactor being built at Arak and tougher UN inspections.
The US lead negotiator in the talks, Wendy Sherman, has said that Iran “does not need” the Fordo site or the new heavy-water reactor being built at Arak, which Western countries fear could give Iran weapons-grade plutonium. In exchange, all UN Security Council, US and EU sanctions on Iran — which are costing it billions of dollars every week in lost oil revenues, wreaking havoc on the economy — would be lifted.
But whether Iran will play along remains to be seen, having set out a number of “red lines” which the commander of the powerful and hardline Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, warned Wednesday must not be crossed.
Tehran has previously indicated its opposition to any dismantling of nuclear facilities, for example. Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran of covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, charges denied by Tehran.
Any deal will have to be sold not only to other countries like Israel — assumed to have nuclear weapons itself — and the Sunni Gulf monarchies, but also to hardliners in Washington and Tehran.
US President Barack Obama has members of Congress breathing down his neck, threatening more sanctions and demanding — with Israel — a total dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose election in 2013 has helped thaw relations with the West, is on thin ice with hardliners seeking to turn supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against him.
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