SHANGHAI: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday talks over Tehran’s nuclear programme had reached an important and tough juncture, but an agreement was still possible by a July deadline.
The lack of progress in talks in Vienna that ended last week between Iran and United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany had raised doubts over the prospects for a breakthrough by the self-imposed July 20 deadline. “I think the negotiations have reached a very important and sensitive and tough juncture,” Rouhani told a news conference through an English interpreter. He was speaking in Shanghai where he attended a regional summit this week and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We cannot expect it to be resolved in just a couple of meetings, but we are not pessimistic about the final agreement. We still have time. We can achieve this. We can even do it by the deadline.” The six powers want Iran to agree to scale back uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activity and accept more rigorous U.N. inspections to deny it any capability of quickly producing atomic bombs.
Tehran denies having any such underlying ambition, saying its nuclear programme is for power generation and medical purposes only. An interim deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany was reached in November in Geneva, aimed at persuading Iran to curb parts of its nuclear work, in return for a limited easing of sanctions.
Rouhani said an early deal would benefit all but there was “no rush” to finalise the talks. If the deadline was not met, the interim agreement could be extended for another six months, he said. “The signs, the indications that we have been receiving in the past few days, are telling us that it is very likely that we can come to an agreement by the end of July,” he said. To reach a deal by the deadline will require good will on the part of the six countries opposite Iran at the negotiating table. In addition, “some certain countries behind the scenes who want to create problems” should not be given a chance to “sabotage” the talks, he said. He did not specify which countries he was referring to. Meanwhile, a UN atomic watchdog report due today is likely to confirm that Iran is curbing its nuclear activities as agreed with world powers in a landmark accord last year, diplomatic sources said.
They said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would probably verify in a monthly update that Iran is living up to its part of the interim agreement struck in November, designed to buy time for talks on a long-term deal. The update “will show continuing compliance,” one Western diplomat said on Thursday. The report is also expected to include information about Iran’s agreement this week to address two issues in a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by Tehran, which denies any such work.
The undertaking could advance the research the IAEA is trying to carry out, and may also help Iran and six world powers to negotiate a broader deal to end a dispute that has raised fears of a new Middle East war. But Western capitals, aware of past failures to get Iran to cooperate with the IAEA, are likely to remain sceptical until it has fully implemented the agreed steps and others to clear up allegations of illicit atomic work.
The IAEA-Iran talks are separate from those between Tehran and the six powers - United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia. But they are complementary as both focus on fears that Iran may covertly be seeking the means and expertise to assemble nuclear weapons, which it denies. U.S. officials say it is vital for Iran to address the IAEA’s concerns if Washington and five other powers are to reach a long-term nuclear accord with Iran by a self-imposed deadline of July 20. But the Islamic state’s repeated denials of any nuclear bomb aspirations will make it hard for it to admit to any wrongdoing in the past without losing face.
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