Iran deal possible by July deadline, Ministers say

Difficult nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers this week shouldn’t cast doubt on the goal of reaching a long-term accord by next month, German and Russian ministers said.

“I hope that the July 20 date isn’t called into question, so all participants should exercise as much of their engagement and effort as possible to reach a conclusion in this timeframe,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told journalists today in Vienna. “It would be good, when you consider the many conflicts that play a role in this region, that at least one can be solved.”

The European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, negotiating on behalf of six major powers, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif led a fourth day of talks in the Austrian capital. The discussions are taking place amid rising Middle East tensions as a Sunni insurgency led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda breakaway, has overrun forces of the Shiite-led government in parts of Iraq.

Asked whether the sides can overcome disagreements on the future scope of Iranian nuclear activities by July 20, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “there is such a chance even though there is no guarantee,” the Itar-Tass newswire reported. “We could see that all parties are determined to find a solution,” he said.

Discord at the talks focuses on what uranium-enrichment capacity Iran should maintain under an agreement. The U.S. has sought a reduction of the 19,000 fast-spinning centrifuges Iran already has installed. Iran seeks the option to install additional machines to boost capacity.

‘Difficult Challenges’

Iran hasn’t indicated “that the talks should be unduly extended,” said Steinmeier. “The really big and difficult challenges will come in the end.” He spoke at a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, unrelated to the Iran talks taking place across town. He had no plans to meet Iran’s Zarif, the German ministry said.

While the sides have the option to extend the interim accord for another six months, failure to reach a deal by next month might embolden hardliners on both sides. The U.S. Congress has threatened to impose new sanctions, while in the absence of a deal, Iran might move to restart nuclear activities that are currently suspended in return for limited sanctions relief.

By Bloomberg

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