Iran nuclear talks wrap up – Iran wants punishing UN, Western sanctions lifted

VIENNA: Iran and six world powers left themselves with a lot to do in a short amount of time after a difficult fifth round of nuclear talks ended yesterday, a month before the deadline for a deal. The aim is to secure a mammoth deal by July 20 to reduce the programme and ease fears the Islamic republic will get atomic weapons.

Iran denies wanting the bomb and wants punishing UN and Western sanctions lifted. The parties had “begun the drafting process” and would start the next round of talks on July 2, said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is chief negotiator for the six world powers.

“We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round in Vienna,” said the spokesman, Michael Mann. “We presented each other with a number of ideas on a range of issues, and we have begun the drafting process.” Officials on both sides said however that although the drafting process had begun, haggling over language concerning the thorniest problems was being put off until later.

“It has been another really tough round,” said a diplomat from one of the “P5+1″ six powers late Thursday. “That doesn’t surprise me or particularly dismay me since from the very beginning we have always known that if a deal was to be done, it was going to be very difficult,” the envoy said.

A second diplomat said earlier this week that Iran was refusing to budge on most issues.  “It is worrying that there is no evolution on the part of the Iranians on most subjects,” the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, including “major” differences on the key issue of uranium enrichment. “The talks are being held in a serious and productive atmosphere, but progress in drafting the comprehensive agreement has been limited,” one Iranian diplomat told the IRNA news agency.

The trickiest issue is uranium enrichment-the process of making nuclear fuel for civilian purposes but also, when highly purified, for a nuclear weapon. Western countries want Iran to slash the number of centrifuge enrichment machines in order to make it harder for Iran to process enough material for a bomb in a short period of time. Other thorny issues include the duration of the mooted accord, the pace of any sanctions relief and a reactor being built at Arak that might give Iran weapons-grade plutonium.

Extension

The negotiations can be extended by up to six months beyond July 20, when an interim deal struck in November expires, but for now both sides were still aiming to get a deal by that date. US President Barack Obama is particularly keen to ensure the deadline is met. He faces midterm elections in the US in November and hopes to silence accusations that the talks are merely giving Iran time to inch closer to the bomb.

“We are absolutely focused on July 20 … We are not interesting in talking about a rollover,” the P5+1 diplomat said, adding it would be a “long time” until such an extension is even discussed. Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said it was “not surprising” that difficult topics were being put off until later.

“If there is going to be a breakthrough on the key issues, it won’t come until the last moment,” Fitzpatrick told AFP. Mann said that political directors from the six countries would meet in Brussels on June 26. – AFP

Source: Kuwait Times

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