Racing against the clock, nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers appeared tough going yesterday, with both sides warning of major differences as they tried to draft an accord.
A Western diplomat said that Iran was refusing to budge on most issues and that drafting language in the text on the “complex issues” had not begun.
“It is worrying that there is no evolution on the part of the Iranians on most subjects,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity on the fourth day of talks in Vienna.
Differences between the two sides — Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — on uranium enrichment, the central issue not only in this fifth round of talks, but for the past decade, remain “major,” the envoy said.
“We have drafted little bits [of an accord], but the complex issues haven’t really been addressed in the drafting process,” he said.
The hoped-for agreement would see Iran scale back its nuclear program, in order to ease fears Iran wants atomic weapons, and avert a conflict in the Middle East.
Iran wants painful UN and Western sanctions lifted. It denies wanting the bomb.
However, beyond agreeing a title for the accord, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “fundamental differences” were dividing the two sides.
On Wednesday, negotiations “slowly” began to draft the final agreement, “but there are still many differences” over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.
Enrichment is front and center of Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as the process can produce both fuel for nuclear power plants and, when highly purified, the core of an atomic bomb.
The West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, from 20,000, but Tehran wants to install many more in order, it says, to fuel a future fleet of nuclear plants.
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 plutonium, the alternative to highly-enriched uranium for a bomb.
Iran’s top negotiator Abbas Araqchi told IRNA on Wednesday that choosing to push back the July 20 deadline — when an interim deal struck in November last year expires — “won’t be a catastrophe.”
Two other diplomats yesterday said that there was a possibility that they would wrap up the round early because of the lack of progress.
Additional reporting by AP