VIENNA: Iranian nuclear talks were hanging in the balance six days before a deadline to get a historic deal, after intensive talks yesterday described by US Secretary of State John Kerry as “very tough”.
“We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s programme, it is a really tough negotiation I will tell you,” Kerry said during a second day of discussions in Vienna.
He said later: “We are working, we are working very hard. Serious discussions. (It was a) good meeting.”
Kerry was due to give a news conference this morning, a US official said, and it was unclear whether he would hold any more discussions with Zarif.
The mooted nuclear accord would kill off for good fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme after a decade of rising tensions and threats of war.
Iran denies seeking the atomic bomb and wants the lifting of crippling UN and Western sanctions.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have been negotiating almost non-stop for months, after sealing an interim accord in November under which Iran froze its uranium enrichment in return for about $7bn in sanctions relief.
But the talks to nail down a full treaty have met major sticking points, particularly on how much of Iran’s nuclear programme to dismantle.
Both sides are also under intense domestic pressure.
Zarif will have to come up with a deal that satisfies Iran’s hardline Islamic leaders, while Kerry is under pressure from Congress ahead of November mid-term elections not to concede too much.
Kerry, along with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain and the deputy foreign minister of China jetted into the Austrian capital on Sunday seeking to inject some momentum.
But the three European ministers left with no apparent breakthrough.
“It is now up to Iran to decide to take the path of cooperation... I hope that the days left will be enough to create some reflection in Tehran,” Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before leaving Vienna.
“The ball is in Iran’s court.”
If no agreement is reached by next Sunday, when the six-month interim accord runs out, all sides can agree to extend the talks for a further six months.
“We have a few days left and our efforts are to narrow the gaps and get an agreement by then,” Michael Mann, spokesman for lead negotiator and EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, said yesterday.
“We’re still aiming for July 20. We still have some time.”