U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Vienna on July 5, said there has been genuine progress in the Iranian nuclear talks but that “we are not yet where we need to be” and that the talks “could go either way.”
Kerry, speaking to reporters, said “it is now time” to see whether or not the two sides can close a deal.
He said that the United States is prepared to walk away from the talks if there is absolute intransigence.
Iran and world powers have reportedly made progress on future sanctions relief for Tehran in the marathon nuclear talks but remain divided on issues such as accounting for Iran’s past nuclear activities.
Earlier, diplomats said they had tentative agreement on a mechanism for suspending U.S. and European Union sanctions on Iran.
But the six powers had yet to agree on a United Nations Security Council resolution that would lift UN sanctions and establish a means of reimposing them in case Iran does not comply with a future agreement.
“We don’t have Iran on board yet,” a diplomat said, though technical experts have drawn up a draft annex to the emerging nuclear agreement that would establish the pace and timing of sanctions relief.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s lead negotiator, said there were still “four or five” outstanding questions regarding sanctions, including synchronizing their lifting with actions by Tehran to curb nuclear activities.
“There are complications related to the simultaneous lifting of sanctions with the execution of Iran’s technical obligations,” he said.
The negotiations call for Iran to start cutting back on its nuclear program after an agreement is reached, possibly as early as next week.
But that would take up to four months, Araghchi said, and he insisted that Iran is not willing to wait that long for the crippling sanctions to be lifted.
“That would be a problem for us,” he said.
Araghchi issued a warning that the talks could still collapse.
“If we reach an agreement that respects our red lines, then there will be a deal. Otherwise, we prefer to return home to Tehran empty-handed,” he said.
The question of easing UN sanctions, along with other tough disputes, will be left for foreign ministers who are due to arrive in the Austrian capital on July 5 to begin a final push for a deal, officials said.
“Even if and when issues get resolved at an experts level, there will remain some open issues that can only be decided by ministers,” a senior U.S. official told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi have remained in Vienna along with experts from each country. Kerry and Zarif met twice on July 4.
The sanctions relief offered by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia would come in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear program for at least a decade.
The negotiators missed a June 30 deadline for a final agreement, but have given themselves until July 7.
All sides say a deal is within reach.
Western and Iranian officials said there were signs of a compromise emerging on another major sticking point: access to Iranian sites to monitor compliance with a future agreement.
Another potential emerging compromise relates to Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Western and Iranian diplomats said Tehran was considering shipping most of the stockpile out of the country, something Tehran had previously ruled out.
Russian diplomats have said the complex accord, which will stretch to at least 20 pages with a slew of technical annexes, is “90 percent” written.
But multiple sticking points remain.
One is a stalled UN investigation into the possible military dimensions of past Iranian nuclear research suspected of being linked to weapons development.
Another is Iran’s demand to continue research and development work on advanced centrifuges, machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in power plants or weapons.
UN International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano said he could issue a report on its investigation into past Iranian research suspected of being linked to nuclear weapons development by the end of the year — but only if Tehran cooperated.
Western diplomats said they were not demanding a public confession that Iran had conducted research into building a nuclear warhead. But they said the UN agency had to be satisfied it knew the full scope of past Iranian activity to establish a credible basis for future monitoring.