Iran nuclear talks going slowly, but making progress as deadline extended

It's taken five months of negotiating, but a breakthrough could be around the corner

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:35am


If Iran and world powers couldn't clinch a nuclear deal after five hard months of bargaining, what hope is there that yet more time will help?

Quite a lot actually, experts say.

Even though Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany remain far apart on key issues, some progress has been made, the analysts said.

"The chances are better than ever that there will be a final deal," said Richard Dalton, Britain's former ambassador in Tehran, now at the Chatham House think tank.

"But hard work on the politics of it has to be done in Washington and Tehran," Dalton said.

On Friday the parties announced an extension until November 24 of their July 20 deadline to reach a deal, prolonging the terms of an interim accord struck last November.

This came after a 17-day, sixth and final round of negotiations in Vienna for which US Secretary of State John Kerry flew in but failed to secure a breakthrough.

The mooted deal is aimed at dispelling fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons, after a decade of rising tensions, nuclear expansion and bellicose rhetoric.

Iran, which denies wanting the bomb in the first place, in return wants the lifting of painful UN and Western sanctions strangling its economy.

Iran appears to have given ground on two things: the future of the Arak reactor, which could provide it with weapons-grade plutonium, and more stringent UN inspections.

Tehran has proposed changing the design of Arak so that much less plutonium can be extracted from its spent fuel rods.

More UN oversight of Iran's nuclear facilities would give the world added confidence that Iran was not secretly building a nuclear weapon.

But two problematic issues remain.

The first is how, and at what pace, to ease sanctions. Some are from the UN Security Council, others the European Union and still others the United States, making lifting them tricky.

The major sticking point, however, is uranium enrichment, a process that makes uranium suitable for peaceful purposes but also, when highly purified, for a nuclear weapon.

Iran wants to expand drastically its enrichment programme. The other countries in the negotiation say it has no peaceful need for that kind of enrichment.

In an attempt to break the deadlock on this issue, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested in the New York Times last week what he called an "innovative proposal".

It includes Iran agreeing to freeze its enrichment capacities at current levels for between three and seven years.

Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an Iranian lecturer at Manchester University, said Zarif "cannot go back home and say he has agreed a freeze on all aspects related to enrichment".

While Zarif's proposal still remains unacceptable to the West, analysts said that it was an opening gambit that could form the basis for serious negotiations.