Fresh hope for Iran nuclear deal as US talks resume
Iran's foreign minister returned to Vienna yesterday to rejoin a final round of talks designed to settle the confrontation over his country's nuclear programme.
Mohammad Javad Zarif held a bilateral meeting with John Kerry, the US secretary of state, lasting for almost two hours.
Mr Zarif left the negotiations on Sunday and flew to Tehran for consultations.
He has returned to Vienna with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, who leads the technical aspects of the talks.
Midnight yesterday was supposed to be the deadline for a final agreement that would constrain Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.
However, those involved in the talks ruled out the possibility of a deal in time for the deadline, predicting that the meeting will last for several more days.
Mr Zarif's return has allowed the talks to resume at ministerial level after a 48-hour hiatus.
Mr Salehi's arrival suggests that progress is possible at least on the technical issues.
At least three hurdles are believed to stand in the way of a landmark accord between Iran and America, along with the rest of the "P5 plus 1", a contact group consisting of the Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany.
The parties are understood to be at loggerheads over the rights of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to enter military sites in Iran.
They also differ over how quickly the burden of sanctions would be lifted in the event of a deal - and how Iran would account for its past research into technology related to nuclear weapons.
But a senior US administration official voiced optimism about resolving the question of the IAEA's rights of access in Iran.
"The entry point isn't we must be able to get into every military site, because the United States of America wouldn't allow anybody to get into every military site, so that's not appropriate," said the official.
Instead, America was looking for an agreed "process" that would allow the IAEA experts the access they needed in order to monitor Iran's compliance with a final agreement. "We have worked out a process that we believe will ensure that the IAEA has the access it needs," added the official.
However, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, gave a speech last week that appeared to backtrack on some commitments made in April, when a framework agreement was signed in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Mr Kerry cautioned on Monday that it was too soon to tell if a final nuclear deal was possible. "It's too early to make any judgements," he said in Vienna.