Powers warn Iran ‘now is the time’ for nuclear deal
US Secretary of State John Kerry said despite genuine progress the talks “could go either way” as France's Fabius says all the cards are on the table.
Vienna - Global powers upped the pressure on Iran late on Sunday warning now was “the time” to strike an elusive deal curbing its nuclear ambitions, as the US said the fate of the talks hung in the balance.
US Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that after almost two years of negotiations and on the ninth day of these latest talks “genuine progress” had been made.
But after meeting his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif three times on Sunday, the top US diplomat said the talks “could go either way”. The two men were set to meet again.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had essentially the same message as they arrived back in Vienna ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for a comprehensive deal curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme. Their German and British counterparts were also due back, along with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov.
“All the cards are on the table, the main question is to know whether the Iranians will accept making clear commitments on what until now has not been clarified,” Fabius said.
Kerry stressed that despite progress “we are not yet where we need to be on several of the most difficult issues”.
If all sides were prepared to make hard choices, then “we could get an agreement this week. But if they are not made, we will not,” Kerry warned, adding that if there was “absolute intransigence” the US would walk away.
The global powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — are trying to pin down a deal putting a nuclear bomb out of Iran’s reach in return for lifting a web of sanctions against the Islamic republic.
“The time is now... We are very close,” said Mogherini, adding the atmosphere was “constructive, positive.”
“I see the political will ... now it is a matter of seeing all together if this political will manages to translate into political decisions.”
On one of the thorniest issues — choreographing the nuclear steps to be taken by Iran in exchange for reciprocal sanctions relief — a compromise may be emerging, at least among experts thrashing out the complex final accord.
The deal between Iran and the P5+1 would end a standoff dating back to 2002 when dissidents first revealed undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.
Officials have stressed all week that this is the endgame, and after missing several deadlines they are not planning to extend the negotiations again.
Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araghchi told Iranian TV late Saturday: “If we reach an agreement that respects our red lines then there will be a deal. Otherwise we prefer to return home to Tehran empty-handed.”
A deal would also hold out the promise of bringing Iran back into the diplomatic fold at a time of mounting unrest in the Middle East.
Zarif said in an English YouTube message that an accord could “open new horizons to address important common challenges”, referring to the “growing menace of violent extremism and outright barbarism,” an implicit statement on the Daesh militant group.
On Saturday it appeared that another stumbling block to the deal — a stalled UN probe into allegations of past efforts by Iran to develop the bomb — may potentially be close to being resolved too.
Speaking after a whirlwind trip to Tehran, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said the UN watchdog aimed to issue a report by year’s end on the “clarification of the issues” concerned.
Amano’s deputies were due to fly to Tehran on Sunday to discuss ways of resolving lingering questions, Iranian sources told AFP, although the IAEA declined to comment on the reported visit.
“I think it would be very difficult to imagine Secretary Kerry at this point walking away, this close to the finish line,” Iran expert Suzanne Maloney from the Brookings Institution told AFP.
“I just don’t think there’s any real likelihood that this collapses.”