Leaders’ hopeful remarks aside, diplomats say Iran and six world powers likely to announce in close to final week of talks a framework agreement
Iran and six world powers are poised to reach a deal limiting the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme in the final days of negotiations, with Iranian leaders offering an upbeat vision of a deal to end a decade-long stand-off between Tehran and the West.
In a delicate balancing act that may well determine their legacy and wider relations with the outside world, Rouhani and his hardline opponents on Thursday refused to say whether they would seek approval from parliament or the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, before a final agreement is sealed.
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The last negotiations between Iran and the powers, known as the P5+1, were due to end on Friday, but continued into the night to resolve a dispute over the pace of relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy over the past two years.
In a defiant address, Rouhani, who has won international plaudits for his outreach to the West, defended the current negotiations as a “golden opportunity” for an easing of international sanctions on Iran.
“The negotiations should bring not only an immediate relief in sanctions but also a long-term confidence-building measure,” said Rouhani. “We can now lead a road towards an important agreement in this week. I hope that we will all be cautious and not fall into the same trap as some others.”
But he appeared to hold out the prospect of an overreaching solution that could lead to backsliding, warning that “failure will be tantamount to giving up a golden opportunity.”
Following days of intensive talks in Vienna, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, sought to temper expectations, saying he needed at least a week to “put the final touches” to the deal and would then present it to Khamenei and parliament.
“We are always flexible,” Zarif told reporters, “but we also have expectations. We cannot accept something that we don’t understand.”
Both statements suggested that despite optimism over a possible deal, issues remain on many points – Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity, how many centrifuges would be installed, and even the future parameters of a nuclear programme.
At the same time, however, both sides were upbeat on progress on more sensitive issues – reductions in stockpiles of enriched uranium and other heavy water reactors that could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and blocking nuclear materials destined for other countries.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Iran and the six powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – set a short end-of-June deadline to reach a framework agreement. The outcome of the two weeks of negotiations, conducted behind closed doors, is expected to remain unclear until a final deal is struck in July.
A series of ministerial meetings is planned to work on the draft text to be presented to the negotiators at a final round of talks on 1 July.
Several issues have emerged as potential sticking points. These include Iran’s right to produce enrichment, its uranium stockpile, the dilution of its stockpile to concentrations that would be difficult to use in a bomb, and a resolution to Iran’s standoff with the international Atomic Energy Agency over access to military sites and documents that might shed light on past secret atomic work.
A senior diplomat said the sides were close to a deal, though there were a few “last-minute issues”. “We have more or less found a way to contain some of the demands of the US to allow enrichment,” he said.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and chief nuclear negotiator #JohnKerry – on #expeditionlongest,’ previews new Iran nuclear settlement, read on http://t.co/pKSc9Yscxc pic.twitter.com/PPBvnlMx0I — State Department (@StateDept) June 20, 2016
The timeline for concluding a deal has clearly drawn back. “It’s not something that is going to be concluded in this week,” the senior diplomat said.
Michael Mann, spokesman for the chief EU negotiator, Catherine Ashton, made a similar assessment. “We are a couple of days away from being the nitty-gritty, with a solid structure and then we will move to … core questions and focus on a confidence-building mechanism and the detail in that.”
There are also potentially powerful political sensitivities involved. On Thursday, Antonia Mangano, an Iranian diplomat working for the UN nuclear watchdog, was named as the new head