Western diplomats indicated Saturday that with the clock running out on a nuclear deal with Iran before Monday’s deadline, the sides would likely settle on an extension of the negotiations.
Representatives of Iran and world powers have been engaged in intensive talks in Vienna in an effort to break the deadlock in their high-stakes nuclear negotiations and secure a historic deal on the eve of a deadline. But diplomats on both sides were pessimistic on Saturday.
“We’ve been very candid that real differences remain and we’re not going to discuss an extension prematurely with the Iranians because that takes pressure off them to wrestle with tough issues now,” one senior American official was quoted by London’s Sunday Times newspaper as saying.
The paper reported that the talks would probably be extended by an additional six months.
“The gap remains big… There now needs to be a political decision,” an Iranian source told AFP on condition of anonymity, putting the onus on the world powers to make concessions.
A European source in the talks said there had been “no significant progress” and “the chances of getting a deal are pretty reduced.
“In order to get a deal, the Iranians will have to budge in a rather substantial manner,” he said. Discussions about a deadline extension could begin as early as Sunday, he added.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Friday postponed a trip to Paris to remain in Vienna for the talks, met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday afternoon, their fourth meeting in three days.
“We’re working hard,” Kerry said Saturday in Vienna, “and we hope we’re making careful progress, but we have big gaps, we still have some serious gaps, which we’re working to close.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also in the Austrian capital, called this final weekend of talks, after months of negotiations, a “moment of truth.”
At stake is a historic deal in which Iran would curb its disputed nuclear activities in exchange for broad relief from years of heavy international economic sanctions.
It could end a 12-year standoff that has even raised the prospect of Israeli military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. Kerry spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday by phone.
Many experts believe that the deadline may be extended, as happened with an earlier cut-off point on July 20.
A senior US official said late Saturday that the aim remained getting a deal by Monday night “but we are discussing both internally and with our partners a range of options.”
The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany have been locked in talks with Iran since February to turn an interim accord reached a year ago into a lasting agreement by November 24.
Such a deal is aimed at easing fears that Tehran will develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities.
The Islamic Republic hotly denies such an aim and insists its program is entirely peaceful.
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