Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers were hanging in the balance on Tuesday after two days of “very tough” talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart in Vienna.
“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 in the Austrian capital on Monday.
He said later after the talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: “We are working, we are working very hard. Serious discussions. (It was a) good meeting.”
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A senior US official said after a later three-way meeting between Iran, the United States and the European Union that there was “more work to do”.
Kerry was due to give a news conference on Tuesday, the official said.
Time is running very short.
A deadline for Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to forge a deal is Sunday, when an interim accord from November expires.
This can be extended, allowing both sides to continue talking, but only if both sides agree and Washington insists that Iran first has to make major concessions.
The negotiations, which entered their sixth and final round on July 3, were however set to continue between lower-ranking officials and may go down to the wire of the July 20 cut-off.
The mooted accord is aimed at eradicating 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 six powers want Iran to dramatically reduce in scope its nuclear programme for a lengthy period of time and agree to more intrusive UN inspections.
This would greatly expand the time needed for the Islamic republic to develop a nuclear weapon, should it choose to do so, while giving the world ample warning of any such “breakout” push.
Iran on the other hand has stated it wants to expand its nuclear facilities, insisting they are for purely peaceful purposes and that it has the perfect right to nuclear activities under international treaties.
Both sides are also under intense domestic pressure from hardliners both in Iran and in Washington – midterm US elections are in November – both wary of giving too much away.