Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
(artwork by Iranian daily Ghanoon)
A senior Iranian diplomat said on July 8 that Iran has presented "constructive solutions" to resolve disputes in its nuclear talks with six major powers.
The Iranian Students News Agency quoted the diplomat as saying Tehran's proposals aim to overcome "the remaining differences" on a final nuclear deal with the P5+1 group.
The diplomat, who was not identified, also said Iran "will not show flexibility regarding our red lines" on a deal that lifts economic sanctions in exchange for verifiable guarantees Tehran is not secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.
Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 became testy late on July 6, reportedly over the issue of eliminating UN sanctions against Tehran's conventional arms and missile programs.
Arms Embargo Problem
The negotiators failed to meet their self-imposed July 7 deadline for a deal, pushing back the target date for a third time to July 10.
Western sources at the talks have been quoted as saying that while Tehran's main focus previously was on economic embargoes imposed by the European Union and United States that have crippled Iran's economy, it has shifted its emphasis to ensuring that UN measures limiting its ballistic-missile program and arms trade are scrapped as soon as the deal goes into effect.
China and Russia have appeared open to the idea of lifting the UN's arms embargo in conjunction with any deal.
"I can assure you that there remains one major problem that's related to sanctions -- this is the problem of an arms embargo," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 7.
With the clock ticking on the discussions, the debate turned emotional at a late-night meeting on June 6 at the Palais Coburg hotel in central Vienna, where the latest round of talks has been going on since June 27.
An unnamed senior Western diplomat reportedly described the atmosphere there as "a very heated exchange of views."
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said afterward that "an agreement only makes sense if all sanctions are lifted at the same time." He said "Western nations must be prepared to give up sanctions" if they want a deal.
But the dispute is politically and emotionally charged in the West as well, where it is seen to involve Iran's backing of militant groups throughout the Middle East that are engaged in conventional battles with Israel and Western allies such as Saudi Arabia.
Among the potential beneficiaries of easier arms access for Iran, for instance, would be the Lebanese Hizballah group and the Palestinian Hamas.
Moreover, fierce critics of Iran in the U.S. Congress could balk at any deal that gives Iran free access to conventional arms.
In view of these obstacles, a senior U.S. official insisted UN restrictions would remain on Iran's trade in arms and its access to missile technology, although he left open the possibility that these curbs might be less onerous in the future than they are at present.
Iran, which has insisted its atomic program is purely civilian, wants to avoid linking conventional weapons with the nuclear issue.
Iranian negotiators seemed in no hurry to clinch a deal, though negotiators had to extend their deadline for a third straight time, making July 10 the latest deadline.
"No deadline is sacrosanct for us," said Araqchi. "We are ready to stay in Vienna and continue talks as long as it is necessary."
But some Western negotiators portrayed the latest deadline as more definitive. U.S. officials said they still hope to wrap talks up in time to secure an expedited review by the U.S. Congress, but it was unclear if it would possible to make a July 9 deadline for submitting the plan for review.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Reuters, AFP, dpa, and ISNA
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