Iran Nuclear Talks End Without Joint Statement

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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Iran Talks Hit 'Difficult Moment,' U.S. Official


VIENNA--Negotiations on a comprehensive agreement to end concerns about Tehran's nuclear program hit a "difficult moment" this week, a senior U.S. official said Friday after three days of talks in the Austrian capital.

With both sides targeting a July 20 deadline, Iranian and western officials described hours of tough talks and little progress, with western officials saying they were disappointed Iran had not shown more flexibility.

"In any negotiation, there are good days and bad days," said a senior U.S. official. "This has been a moment of great difficulty but one that was not entirely unexpected."

There had been positive expectations going into the latest Vienna talks, with negotiators saying they would start drafting the text of a final agreement.

Iran says its nuclear program is for purely civilian purposes. The six powers--the U.S., France, the U.K., China, Russia and Germany--want to craft an agreement that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of tight international sanctions on Tehran.

After the talks concluded Friday, Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, was quoted in Iranian media saying there had been few advances and that the two sides had not even made a real start on the drafting work.

A second western diplomat urged Iran to show more "realism," saying that on key issues "we probably would have...expected a bit more flexibility on their side."

"It's true that huge gaps remain," the person said.

Following the first three rounds of talks in Vienna, there were hints of real progress on some of the core issues a deal would have to address. They included the future of Iran's planned heavy water reactor in Arak that the west fears could produce enough plutonium for a nuclear weapon. Modest progress was also apparent in Iran's pledge to offer greater transparency about its past nuclear work to the United Nations atomic agency and on defining the kind of additional monitoring of Iran's nuclear facilities Tehran could agree to.

However, a host of tough problems remained including how long Iran would be subject to special restrictions on its program, the timing of sanctions relief for Tehran, the future scope of Iran's nuclear research work and a western push to restrain Iran's ballistic missile program.

Above all, Iran has resisted a central western demand that it significantly scale back its nuclear infrastructure--in particular removing many of the more than 19.000 centrifuges Iran has for enriching uranium.

While western officials continued to say Friday they believed Iran was negotiating seriously, U.S. and European diplomats have cautioned they are not clear whether Iran's theocratic leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will give Tehran's diplomats sufficient room to make painful compromises on issues like enrichment.

The talks concluded without the usual joint statement between the two sides. There was no date set for a new meeting but U.S. and Iranian officials said there could be two meetings in June as the pace of talks steps up.

While all sides said they were still aiming for a July 20 agreement, Iran and the six powers have already agreed they could extend the negotiations by an additional six months if it is needed. The senior U.S. official said the Obama administration has made it clear it won't "rush into a bad deal."

"Time is not unlimited here and we are still tracking towards the July 20 date to see if we can get this done," the official said. "We will take the time to do this right."

On Friday morning, the U.S. team, led by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Iran held a bilateral meeting, which ran to almost three hours as they sought to advance discussions. The U.S. team sent a message that "this process needs to move faster," the senior official said.

U.S. allies in the Middle East, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are closely watching the final negotiations in Vienna. Both countries, as well as key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, are calling for a dismantling of Iran's nuclear installations to guard against Iran's capability to build weapons.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he believes Iran is trying to "pull the wool over the eyes of the international community" in the talks.

"I think as the talks continue, one thing that must guide the international community...we mustn't let the foremost terrorist state of our time, Iran, develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons."

Jay Solomon and Adam Entous contributed to this article

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires


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This article appears in: Energy


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