Iran faces off with global powers in game of brinkmanship

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VIENNA (AFP) – In a game of high-stakes diplomatic brinkmanship, global powers readied Wednesday for a late-night push to forge a deal curbing Tehran s nuclear ambitions and ending a 13-year standoff.

With all bets off after ministers missed yet another deadline to seal the accord, US Secretary of State John Kerry huddled with his team in a rainy Vienna to pore over documents seeking to find a way forward.

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iran s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi met twice for a total of three hours trying to hammer out details of what will be a highly complex accord, a US official said.

Iran and six world powers on Tuesday effectively gave themselves until Friday to reach a deal by extending a November 2013 interim accord, after missing two target dates in this round of talks now in their 12th day.

This followed what diplomats said was a stormy meeting Monday evening between Kerry and the foreign ministers of Iran and the other major powers that one senior envoy saw a “very heated exchange of views.”

Iranian media reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini: “Never threaten an Iranian”.

During separate talks between Kerry and Zarif, other residents at the posh Coburg hotel heard shouting and raised voices, prompting a Kerry aide to poke his head round the door and advise the two to pipe down, a diplomatic source said.

But as they stare each down, both Iran and the United States have now insisted there is no target date, and they plan to keep talking in Vienna until a deal emerges or not.

“It s doable by tomorrow night (Thursday) if talks advance this evening,” said a Western diplomatic source.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British counterpart Philip Hammond were due back in the Austrian capital late Wednesday, to pow-wow once more with Kerry and Iran s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Observers say it is hard to believe that after almost two years of intense and tough negotiations the talks could collapse.

All sides have insisted they are not planning a formal months-long extension of the talks, and one clear success has been the 2013 interim deal under which Tehran has frozen parts of its nuclear programme in return for minor sanctions relief.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest praised the interim accord on Tuesday, saying it “essentially opened the door to these broader talks. And what it did was it froze Iran s nuclear program in place. It rolled it back in some key aspects.”

In another twist to the talks, if Kerry fails to hand over a deal by the end of Thursday, US lawmakers will get 60 days instead of 30 to review it which may delay its implementation.

But Earnest brushed aside the congressional deadline, recalling lawmakers would be in recess for most of August anyway, and adding: “We welcome additional scrutiny of the deal.”

The mooted accord would curb Iran s nuclear programme for a decade or more in order to deny the country the ability to develop nuclear arms.

Despite progress on a main deal and a series of complicated annexes, negotiations have stalled on how to ease sanctions against Iran, probing allegations that in the past Tehran did try to develop nuclear arms and ensuring Iran can continue to have a modest, peaceful nuclear programme.

Iran has also insisted there should be changes to a UN arms embargo and an easing of restrictions on missile sales.

While Iran had managed to develop its own arms industry, global powers “must change their approach on sanctions if they want a deal,” the country s lead negotiator Abbas Araghchi said.

But a US official insisted there would be “ongoing restrictions on arms just like there will be ongoing restrictions regarding missiles”.

2015-07-09

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