By Dow Jones Business News,
May 16, 2014, 01:55:00 PM EDT
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 email@example.com
Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
This article appears in: