December 18, 2014
Iran questions nuclear talks deadline
Iran questioned whether a July deadline for a nuclear deal with world powers will be met, fuelling doubts on the outcome as France spoke out to say talks on curbing Tehran's uranium enrichment had "hit a wall".
Iran's talks with six major powers on curbing its nuclear programme in exchange for an end to Western sanctions could be extended for six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline agreed by all parties, a senior Iranian official said.
While an extension is possible under the terms of the talks, experts believe both Iran and the international powers may face domestic political pressures to argue for better terms during this extra time period, further complicating negotiations.
The Iranian official, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said it was "too soon to judge" whether more time was needed.
"But the good thing is all parties are seriously committed to meet that goal," he said of the July 20 target. "Whether we can do it or not is something else," he told Iranian media in Geneva.
Araqchi, in remarks on the sidelines of meetings with senior US officials in the Swiss city, had earlier spoken of a possible half-year extension to the talks.
Singling out a big gap in negotiating positions that will be difficult to overcome in less than two months, France's foreign minister said Iran should drop a demand to have thousands of uranium enrichment centrifuges. Instead it should restrict itself to a few hundred of the machines used to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope of the metal - a process that can make a weapon, though Iran denies it wants to do that.
Iran - which says its nuclear programme is peaceful and mainly aimed at generating electricity - has around 19,000 centrifuges, of which roughly 10,000 are operating, according to the UN nuclear agency. Enriched uranium can have both civilian and military uses, depending on the degree of refinement.
Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what it currently needs for civilian purposes. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for planned nuclear reactors.