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US, Iran nuclear deal in balance as Kerry, Zarif meet

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Muscat, Nov 10 (AFP):  Iran and the United States held a second day of talks today in Oman about a long hoped for nuclear deal, with key differences threatening to scupper a final agreement.

With a November 24 deadline hanging over the negotiations, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are laying out their nations’ competing demands, but with no signs of a breakthrough.

As they first met in Muscat yesterday, US President Barack Obama underlined the high stakes of the encounter, saying that a “big gap” remains on how the West can have “verifiable, lock-tight assurances” Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.

The Iranian delegation, meanwhile, is under pressure to deliver a total lifting of US, UN and European sanctions under a final deal, something they want immediately but which Obama said would only be “slowly reduced” if Tehran meets its obligations.

“We may not be able to get there,” Obama told CBS News.

Kerry and Zarif’s talks resumed just before 11.30 am (0730 GMT). Only one day of negotiations had been originally scheduled.

The key sticking point is thought to be the number and type of uranium-enriching centrifuges Iran should be allowed to keep spinning in exchange for sanctions relief and rigorous inspections of its nuclear sites.

Iran denies it is seeking a bomb and says its nuclear programme is solely aimed at producing atomic energy to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, requiring a massive increase in its ability to enrich uranium. The duration of a final settlement between Iran and the P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — also remains contested, with Iran speaking of five years and the West suggesting at least double that.

Some analysts have said the recent lack of clear progress and the far apart demands of the respective parties mean a comprehensive settlement by November 24 may already be out of reach.

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