March 11, 2014
In second day of talks, Iran, powers seek basis for nuclear deal
Six world powers and Iran strived at a second day of talks in Vienna to hammer out an agenda for reaching a ambitious final settlement to the decade-old standoff over Tehran's nuclear programme.
The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany want a long-term agreement on the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear activities to lay to rest concerns that they could be put to developing atomic bombs. Tehran's priority is a complete removal of damaging economic sanctions against it.
The negotiations will probably extend at least over several months, and could help defuse many years of hostility between energy-exporting Iran and the West, ease the danger of a new war in the Middle East, transform the regional power balance and open up major business opportunities for Western firms.
"The talks are going surprisingly well. There haven't been any real problems so far," a senior Western diplomat said.
The opening session yesterday was productive and substantive, diplomats said. "The focus was on the parameters and the process of negotiations, the timetable of what is going to be a medium- to long-term process," one European diplomat said. "We don't expect instant results."
Iran's ISNA news agency said a draft negotiation agenda had been agreed but not yet finalised. A source among the major powers, however, said work on such a text had yet to begin.
The talks had originally been expected to run for at least three full days but might be adjourned as early as tomorrow morning due to the escalating crisis in Ukraine, according to Western diplomats.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates official contacts with Iran on behalf of the six, was due to attend an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Ukraine tomorrow afternoon.
Ashton deputy Helga Schmid chaired the Vienna talks during the day with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, flanked by senior diplomats from the six powers. Separately, Ashton met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The powers have yet to spell out their precise demands of Iran. But Western officials have signalled they want Tehran to cap enrichment of uranium at a low fissile concentration, limit research and development of new nuclear equipment, decommission a substantial portion of its centrifuges used to refine uranium, and allow more intrusive UN nuclear inspections.
Such steps, they believe, would help extend the time Iran would need to make enough fissile material for a bomb and make such a move easier to detect before it became a fait accompli. Tehran says its programme is peaceful and has no military aims.