Iran and world powers ratcheted up the rhetoric today as they entered a final round of nuclear talks six days before a deadline for a deal, with still-considerable differences dogging the negotiations.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned on arrival in Vienna that an accord would only happen if the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany make no “excessive demands”.
“If, because of excessive demands … we don’t get a result, then the world will understand that the Islamic Republic sought a solution, a compromise and a constructive agreement and that it will not renounce its rights and the greatness of the nation,” Zarif told Iranian media.
But US Secretary of State John Kerry, in London but expected in Vienna in the coming days, said it was “imperative that Iran works with us with all possible effort to prove to the world that the programme is peaceful”.
“This is a very critical week obviously in Iran negotiations,” Kerry said. “We hope we get there but we can’t make any predictions.”
In a joint news conference, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called for more “flexibility by the Iranians to convince us that their intentions in their nuclear programme are entirely peaceful”.
The landmark accord being sought by yesterday’s deadline, after months of negotiations, is aimed at easing fears that Tehran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian activities.
It could resolve a 12-year standoff over Iran’s atomic programme, silence talk of war and help normalise Iran’s fraught relations with the West after 35 years of mistrust and antagonism.
It could also boost Iran’s economy, improve the lives of ordinary Iranians and mark a rare foreign policy success for US President Barack Obama, five years after he offered Tehran an “outstretched hand”.
US and Iranian negotiations are under domestic pressure not to give too much away, however, while Israel – the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power – and others in the volatile region are sceptical.
In order to make it virtually impossible for Iran to assemble a nuclear weapon, the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany (the P5+1) want Iran to scale down its nuclear programme.
Iran, which insists its nuclear aims are exclusively peaceful despite failing to declare parts of its programme in the past, wants painful sanctions lifted.
Some areas appear provisionally settled. But the big problem remains enrichment, rendering uranium suitable for power generation and other peaceful uses – but also, at high purities, for a weapon.