VIENNA: US Secretary of State John Kerry was set Saturday to try and seal a historic deal with Iran that would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from painful sanctions.
But just days ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for Iran and six major powers to nail down the accord they hope will end a 13-year standoff, diplomats on both sides said Friday that major differences remain.
As a result, the June 30 target date may slip—if only for a few days—setting the stage after almost two years of hard bargaining for yet another bruising and lengthy round of talks.
“Some major problems exist which are still blocking the work… but in other areas we have made good progress,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told state television Friday from Vienna, where the talks will be held.
“Overall, the work is moving ahead slowly and with difficulty,” he added.
This was echoed by a Western diplomat, who said that several key issues including a stalled UN probe into Iran’s past activities and the timing of sanctions relief remain “extremely problematic”.
“The most difficult issues need to be resolved in the coming days: transparency, inspections, PMD (possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program), sanctions . . . On the major issues there is major disagreement,” the diplomat said.
A senior State Department official said Kerry would meet Iranian Foreign Minis- ter Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday morning “to discuss the ongoing P5+1 nu- clear negotiations.”
A deal, it is hoped, would put an end to a crisis dating back to 2002 that has threatened to escalate into war and has poisoned the Islamic republic’s relations with the outside world.
Even if negotiators manage a deal, it will be closely scrutinized by hardliners both in Iran and the United States, as well as Iran’s regional rivals Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, and Saudi Arabia.
While Kerry will meet his Iranian counterpart on Saturday, France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius—seen as a hardliner in the talks—was also expected in Vienna along with other foreign ministers.
“We are going to have some tense and complicated days and nights. We all need to stay calm and keep our cool,” the Western diplomat said.