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Iran nuclear talks off to a good start

Source: Tehran Times

Iran and the major powers started talks on Tuesday in pursuit of a final deal on Tehran's nuclear program. The talks, which began at the United Nations complex in Vienna, are expected to last two or three days.

Keeping an eye on the negotiations!
Sculptures of Iranian cultural figures outside UN headquarter in Vienna
(photo by Marzieh Mousavi, Islamic Republic News Agency)

The talks got off to a good start and the negotiations will be "lengthy" and "complicated," the lead Iranian nuclear negotiator told reporters after the end of the first session of the meeting.

"The purpose of the talks is to reach a final and comprehensive solution in regard to the nuclear issue, which of course is a great task, and the talks will be lengthy and complicated," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said.

Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) clinched an interim deal in Geneva on November 24, 2013, according to which Iran agreed not to expand its nuclear program for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

The Geneva agreement was designed to provide time to negotiate a comprehensive solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

The six-month interim agreement came into force on January 20.

Araqchi also said that Iran believes that the talks must be based on the Geneva accord, so no topic outside the framework of the agreement can be discussed in the process of the talks.

He went on to say that the Vienna talks are being held with the aim of setting an agenda for the continuation of nuclear talks on a final deal and a timeline for the discussions.

"In our view, (discussions on) halting Iran's (nuclear) program and dismantling Iran's nuclear facilities are not on the agenda," he said.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Araqchi said that Iran does not want to be engaged in a lengthy process of talks, adding that if the other side negotiates in good faith, the talks can reach a final conclusion in less than six months.

(photo by Marzieh Mousavi, Islamic Republic News Agency)

According to Reuters, Michael Mann, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees the talks on behalf of the six major powers, told reporters, "Nobody is expecting a final agreement in this round, but we are hoping for progress... the aim is to create a framework for future negotiations."

Reuters also quoted Western officials as saying that the talks are being held to reach an agreement on how the negotiations will proceed in the coming months and what subjects will have to be addressed. "We are basically setting the table for the negotiations," a senior U.S. official said.

The United States had said on Monday that the Vienna talks would be long and complicated, with no guarantee of success.

"These next days this week are the beginning of what will be a complicated, difficult, and lengthy process," a senior U.S. administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters in the Austrian capital, according to Reuters.

While cautioning that the talks would take time, the official said Washington does not want them to run beyond a six-month deadline agreed in the November 24 deal. The late July deadline can be extended for another half year by mutual consent.

"Our intent is to use these six months to negotiate a comprehensive agreement," the official said.

"I think we will certainly know in six months, in probably much sooner than that, whether the odds have increased or not to get a comprehensive agreement," the unnamed source added.

"But our goal, our objective, is to use these six months... to get a comprehensive agreement."

The U.S. official also said there was no guarantee the Vienna negotiations would yield an agreement.

"As President (Barack) Obama has said, and I quite agree, it's probably as likely that we won't get an agreement as it is that we will," the official added.

But the official also signaled potential U.S. willingness to compromise on one of the most divisive issues in the three rounds of negotiations in Geneva that led up to the November 24 agreement with Iran -- the heavy-water reactor at Arak.

The official was responding to remarks by Atomic Energy Agency of Iran Director Ali Akbar Salehi, who was quoted earlier this month as saying that Tehran might be willing to allay Western concerns about Arak by modifying it.

"We were pleased to see the head of the (Iranian) atomic energy agency, Dr. Salehi, say that they were open to discussions of whether there were modifications that would be viable," the official said.

"I think we have a long way to go in these discussions, but I think that we all have to be open to ideas and ways to address our concerns," the official stated.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Monday that he is not optimistic about the nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers but is not opposed to them.

"Some officials in the previous administration and some current administration officials believe that the issue will be resolved if we hold talks with the United States on the nuclear program. I said I am not opposed to talks on the nuclear issue due to their insistence, but I also said at the time that I am not optimistic," Ayatollah Khamenei stated.

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