Ray of hope for Iran nuclear deal before June 30 deadline

There is still hope that a deal between Iran and the P5+1 on Tehran’s nuclear program can be reached before the June 30 deadline, but some gaps remain despite an effort by negotiators to smooth over disagreements at discussions in Vienna this weekend.

“I would say that the political will is there. I’ve seen it from all sides,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters Sunday, stressing that negotiators would try to stick to Tuesday’s deadline to “hopefully” finalize the deal. “Postponement is not an option,” she said before leaving the Austrian capital.

At the same time an anonymous US official at the talks told AFP that “it’s fair to say the parties are planning to stay past [the deadline] to keep negotiating.” Meanwhile, an Iranian official said there was “no desire or discussion yet” on extending the talks past deadline.

The main topics of contention are the timing of sanctions relief for Iran and the nature of the monitoring mechanisms on Iran’s nuclear activities.

On Sunday night, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, flew back home but is expected to return in the coming days. Zarif’s decision to return to Iran followed a weekend of talks with his international counterparts.

“We have given the necessary instructions to our negotiating teams to continue working on the text,” Zarif told state television after a final meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry before heading home.

Kerry remained in Vienna, while the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond left late Sunday. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is scheduled to return home sometime on Monday.

“No deal is better than a bad deal. There are red lines that we cannot cross and some very difficult decisions and tough choices are going to have to be made by all of us,” Hammond told reporters just before he flew home.

Iran and the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany have been negotiating over the past 14 months to reach a long-term deal over Tehran’s disputed atomic program.

Iran is working out an agreement to suspend a portion of its nuclear activities in return for Western sanction relief. In particular the P5 +1 members are seeking to reduce the number of Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges, reduce the country’s uranium stockpile and modify the Arak reactor.

The negotiations are taking place within the framework agreement reached between P5+1 on April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

During Saturday’s meetings, the French side proposed “indispensable” conditions that Iran must meet in order to reach an agreement with its colleagues.

The conditions include the limitation of Iran’s research and development capacity, rigorous inspections of sites, including military, and the automatic return of sanctions if Iran violates its obligations

“These three conditions respect Iran’s sovereignty. They have still not been accepted by everybody, yet they form the key base of the triangle that forms the robust agreement that we want,” Fabius said.

The new issues on the table, namely “putting a stop” to research and development have been “demanded” by Israel, believes researcher and writer Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich. The new proposals also include “very intrusive inspections of Iran's military sites or anywhere else at any time,” she told RT.

“These additional demands that have been placed on these talks on Iran by France are really nothing but deliberate stumbling blocks,” Sepahpour-Ulrich said.

READ MORE: Nuclear Iran 1,000 times more dangerous than ISIS – Netanyahu

“One may think that it is France making these demands, but in reality I think they are playing good cop, bad cop, and France making these demands without the full nod approval from the US. And I think in playing this game many of the regional Arab allies of the US have apprehensions about this nuclear deal going through and France with the nod are making additional demands which are basically impossible to fulfill,” Sepahpour-Ulrich said.

Israel in the meantime, which is the main opponent of a successful agreement, urged its partners to deny Iran the deal.

“It is still not too late to go back and insist on demands that will genuinely deny Iran the ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons and prevent it from receiving vast sums to finance its aggression,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.