Iran: Powers Begin Talks on Final Nuclear Deal, Dampen Optimism
REUTERS — Six world powers and Iran began talks on Tuesday in pursuit of a final settlement on Tehran’s contested nuclear program in coming months despite caveats from both sides that a breakthrough deal may prove impossible.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man with the final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, declared again on Monday that talks between Tehran and six world powers “will not lead anywhere” – while also reiterating that he did not oppose the delicate diplomacy.
Hours later a senior U.S. administration official also tamped down expectations, telling reporters in the Austrian capital that it will be a “complicated, difficult and lengthy process” and “probably as likely that we won’t get an agreement as it is that we will”.
It is the first round of high-level negotiations since a November 24 interim deal that, halting a decade-long slide towards outright conflict, has seen Tehran curb some nuclear activities for six months in return for limited relief from sanctions to allow time for a long-term agreement to be hammered out.
The stakes are huge. If successful, the negotiations could help defuse many years of hostility between Iran – an energy-exporting giant – and the West, ease the danger of a new war in the Middle East, transform power relationships in the region and open up vast new possibilities for Western businesses.
The talks – expected to last two or three days – began on Tuesday morning at the United Nations complex in Vienna. The venue was to shift later to a luxury city center hotel where the chief negotiators were staying.
A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, overseeing the talks on the powers’ behalf, said bilateral meetings between delegations were under way.
MODEST EXPECTATIONS FOR VIENNA TALKS
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi sounded upbeat about the initial 40-minute discussions although he appeared to draw a line against Tehran’s ballistic missile program being addressed in any future talks.
“We had good discussions … and we are trying to set an agenda. If we can agree on an agenda in the next two to three days, it means we have taken the first step. And we will move forward based on that agenda,” he said. “This agenda … will be about Iran’s nuclear program and nothing else, nothing except Iran’s nuclear activities can be discussed.”
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