Iran talks to continue all weekend as US says deal is very close
The White House last night said the United States and its negotiating partners "have never been closer" to an agreement with Iran in ongoing nuclear talks.
Iran and the six world powers in the talks gave themselves until Monday to reach an agreement, their third extension in two weeks after missing a US congressional deadline of yesterday morning.
But there was significant progress made yesterday and diplomats have allowed themselves three more days to salvage an agreement.
Foreign ministers missed a third deadline in two weeks and now have through Monday to resolve the remaining sticking points in an accord that they say is mostly complete.
Extending the talks past a July 9 cut-off means the US Congress would have 60 days to review a deal instead of 30 days, potentially delaying the lifting of sanctions.
"We're making progress but it's painfully slow," UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday in Vienna before leaving the talks.
He and his French and German counterparts are due to return after more of the draft text, which diplomats say is about 80 pages long, has been completed.
For energy-rich Iran, an agreement could speed its return to oil markets and lift financial restraints that have stifled its economy.
For the US and its regional allies, the goal is to restrict Iran's ability to obtain nuclear weapons, which the Islamic Republic denies seeking.
Fourteen days into the talks, the sides have hardened their positions on key issues of timing, reciprocity and sanctions relief.
Diplomats have alternated between insisting that a deal is within reach, threatening that they're ready to leave if it's not resolved soon, and positioning themselves to blame the other side in the event of a breakdown.
Iran cautioned the US against setting and breaking deadlines. The practice amounts to "psychological war," Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Should talks break down it's "up to them" to walk away, he said of the American negotiators.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he hoped a deal would be ready soon. His Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who broke with the West by advocating an end to an arms embargo against Iran, is expected to return to the talks on Sunday should compromises be found.
Russia, a potential arms supplier, is supporting Iran's demand for the UN embargo to be lifted. The US, whose close allies in the region such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are Iran's main rivals, has dismissed a wholesale lifting, though suggesting flexibility on the nature and duration of the embargo.
Under US legislation providing for Congress to weigh in on any deal, the review period would revert to 30 days if an agreement isn't reached until early September, after lawmakers return from their August recess.
Earlier yesterday, there was no end in sight for the talks, despite Washington warning that it was prepared to walk away.
Iran's foreign minister had earlier said that talks had made some progress but were likely to continue during the weekend.
"Some progress has been made but we are not there yet ... I doubt it will happen today ... it seems that we are going to spend the weekend in Vienna," Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters.
The mooted deal with the P5+1 group - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - is aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb by scaling down its atomic activities.