Vienna, 7 Jul – A dispute over United Nations sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and a broader arms embargo were among issues holding up a nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers on Monday, the day before their latest self-imposed deadline.
“The Iranians want the ballistic missile sanctions lifted. They say there is no reason to connect it with the nuclear issue, a view that is difficult to accept”, one Western official told Reuters. “There’s no appetite for that on our part”.
Iranian and other Western officials confirmed this view. The foreign ministers of the P5+1 states – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – met on Monday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif – and were expected to meet again soon – to try to strike a deal by Tuesday night.
“The Western side insists that not only should it (Iran’s ballistic missile program) remain under sanctions, but that Iran should suspend its program as well”, an Iranian official said.
“But Iran is insisting on its rights and says all the sanctions, including on the ballistic missiles, should be lifted when the UN sanctions are lifted”.
Separately, a senior Iranian official told reporters in Vienna on condition of anonymity that Tehran wanted a United Nations arms embargo terminated as well. A senior Western diplomat said a removal was “out of the question”.
The crunch talks between Iran and world powers “could go either way”, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Vienna on Sunday.
An Iranian official told the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Monday that the talks could continue until 9 July, echoing some Western diplomats. A White House spokesman in Washington said it was “certainly possible” the deadline could slip.
A deal could reduce the chance of any military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, something Washington has refused to rule out, and the possibility of a wider war in the Middle East, where conflicts already rage in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Iranian leaders have warned that Iran would respond to any attack by targeting US interests and Israel.
“Israel is a fake temporary state. It’s a foreign object in the body of a nation and it will be erased soon”, the state news agency IRNA quoted former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal would “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal”.
“It will give them a jackpot of hundreds of billions of dollars with which to continue to fund their aggression and terror – aggression in the region, terror throughout the world”, he told reporters in Jerusalem.
If there is a nuclear deal, it will include a draft UN Security Council resolution that, once adopted, would terminate all UN nuclear-related sanctions while simultaneously re-imposing other existing restrictions on Iran.
The six powers argue that removing those measures could further destabilize the region.
“Intense work is going on to try and conclude by the deadline”, a senior Western diplomat said, referring to Tuesday.
A German diplomat, however, said “failure is not ruled out”. Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted an Iranian official saying that “serious differences” remained after the ministerial meeting.
Last Tuesday was the official deadline to reach a long-term deal that would build on the preliminary agreement in Lausanne, but the seven countries have agreed to extend the deadline until 7 July to allow more time for negotiations.
Diplomats have said the real deadline is 9 July, the latest the deal can be presented to the US Congress to limit to 30 days a mandatory review period before Obama can begin suspending sanctions. After that, the review would last 60 days, with growing risks a deal could unravel.
US President Barack Obama warned Iran last week that there would be no nuclear deal if Tehran does not agree to “serious, rigorous” inspections of its facilities.
“The goal of the nuclear negotiations is not to rely on trust, but to set up a verifiable mechanism where we are cutting off the pathways for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon”, Obama said.
Iran’s main opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), last month published a 28-page report stating that Iran has been trying to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact and retain the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. It said Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had put red lines for international inspectors having access to Iranian military sites and nuclear scientists and any halt to nuclear Research and Development (R&D).
The NCRI, the group which first blew the whistle on Iran’s secret uranium enrichment and heavy-water sites in 2002, last week also warned that without “complete unrestricted access” to international inspectors to monitor Iranian military facilities, Iran could not be trusted to abide by the terms of the international agreement.
It published a partial list of Iranian nuclear sites that it had exposed and which Tehran had previously kept secret.
Based in part on wire reports