EU foreign policy chief: Willpower can save Iran talks

EU foreign policy chief: Willpower can save Iran talks

As negotiations in Vienna approach deadline, Federica Mogherini praises ‘good results,’ still hoping to reach agreement

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini addresses the media on the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2015. (AFP/Christian Bruna)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini addresses the media on the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, June 28, 2015. (AFP/Christian Bruna)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said Sunday all sides had shown the political will needed to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, praising the “good results” despite a day of tough talks.

“I would say that the political will is there. I’ve seen it from all sides. So that we’ve tasked negotiating teams to continue work immediately tonight on the texts” for an accord, Mogherini told reporters in Vienna.

Negotiations between Iran and the US entered a “critical phase” Sunday with tensions rising just three days from a deadline to nail down a deal thwarting any Iranian nuclear arms drive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed outrage at world powers for backtracking on terms they’d set for themselves during nuclear negotiations with Iran and asserted that there was no reason to sign an agreement that was “becoming worse with every passing day.

“We see before us a clear diversion from the red lines set by the world powers recently and publicly,” the prime minister said. “Iran tramples on human rights, spreads terrorism, and is building a huge military infrastructure, yet the talks with [Iran], despite these reports, continue as usual.”

Channel 2 reported that the deal taking shape will see sanctions lifted from Iran in three stages, but offered no specifics of how the process would work.

Top envoys were gathered in Vienna for the closing stages of drawn-out negotiations in the hope of still beating the June 30 deadline set for signing an agreement.

Mogherini arrived in Vienna the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart appeared to have made little headway when they returned to the negotiating table on Saturday.

Global powers known as the P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — are seeking to flesh out the final details of a historic accord to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.

They are seeking an accord by Tuesday’s June 30 deadline, building on guidelines set by a framework deal agreed in Lausanne on April 2.

Officials have acknowledged the June 30 deadline may slip by a few days, but several diplomats have categorically ruled out any further formal months-long extension of the talks, which have dragged for almost two years now.

With diplomatic pressure growing, other ministers from Britain, China, Germany and Russia are due to follow Mogherini to Vienna over the coming days.

It is hoped a deal would end a standoff dating back to 2002, which has threatened to escalate into war and poisoned the Islamic Republic’s relations with the outside world.

But any deal must stand up to intense scrutiny by hardliners in Iran and the United States, as well as Iran’s regional rivals Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, and Saudi Arabia.

A senior US official would not go as far as to say there was no chance of meeting the deadline, but said “it’s fair to say the parties are planning to stay past the 30th to keep negotiating.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meanwhile was set to return to Tehran for consultations, officials said, although the US official said this was not a matter of concern.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters, “We left base camp a long time ago. We are now at high altitude with the summit before us. The cross on the summit is in sight. We have to hope that there is now no bad weather.”

According to the Lausanne framework, Iran will slash by more than two-thirds its uranium-enrichment centrifuges, which can make fuel for nuclear power or the core of a nuclear bomb, and shrink its uranium stockpile by 98 percent.

Iran also agreed to change a planned reactor at Arak so it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium, and no longer to use its Fordo facility — built into a mountain to protect it from attack — for uranium enrichment.

In return, it is seeking a lifting of a complicated web of EU, US and UN sanctions, which have choked its economy and limited access to world oil markets.

But last week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, set out key “red lines” for a final agreement that appeared to go against Lausanne.

These included the timing of sanctions relief and UN access to military bases, needed to investigate claims of past bomb-making efforts and to probe any future suspicious activity.

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