By Hannah Kaviani, RFE/RL
cartoon by Mohsen Zarifian, Ghanoon daily
VIENNA -- Diplomats from Iran and six world powers were continuing their talks in Vienna on July 13 in a bid to reach a final nuclear deal that brings sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.
The diplomats have said they are close to reaching a deal by a July 13 self-imposed deadline, but they warned there was no guarantee.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said July 13 that he could not promise "whether the remaining issues can be resolved tonight or tomorrow night."
"Some issues still remain unresolved and until they are solved, we cannot say an agreement has been reached," said Araqchi, who added he was hopeful a deal would be clinched.
In a sign that a final deal is within reach, Iran's President Hassan Rohani is expected to address the nation on state television at 10 p.m. local time (7:30 p.m. Vienna time).
According to the AFP news agency, Rohani's address was announced by the culture ministry in a notice sent to media which said he would talk about the negotiations taking place in Vienna.
President Rohani: "I've fulfilled my promise."
Source: front page of Iranian daily Aftab
"No one is thinking of another extension," Alireza Miryusefi, a spokesman for the Iranian delegation, said on Twitter. "Everyone working hard to get to yes today, but political will (is) still required."
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters on July 13 upon his arrival in Vienna that there "cannot and should not be further delay" in clinching a deal.
"China believes that no agreement can be perfect and conditions are already in place for us to reach an agreement," he said.
Iranian media quoted President Hassan Rohani saying on July 12 that the sides were "very close" to a deal.
"We are so close that if you look down from below you feel as if we have got there, but when you do get there you know there are still some steps to take," said Rohani.
The foreign ministers from Iran and the world powers were all expected to be present in Vienna on July 13.
After more than two weeks of negotiations in the current round of Vienna talks, including three extensions of a self-imposed deadline for clinching a deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on July 12 that the deadline will not be extended again beyond July 13.
Leaders of the diplomatic delegations continued talks at a working dinner on July 12 that lasted until about 11:25 p.m.
Those at the working dinner included U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond left Vienna earlier on July 12 but was expected to return to the Vienna talks on July 13.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also was not in Vienna for the July 12 talks, but a Chinese official told RFE/RL late on July 12 that Wang would arrive in Vienna "very soon."
Britain and China were represented at the working dinner by deputy ministers.
At the conclusion of the working dinner, members of the negotiating teams went back into formal meetings where they were reviewing early on July 13 what was described by an Iranian official as a 100-page document.
All sides have said they are close to reaching a deal. But Kerry said after meeting with Zarif on July 12 that "major issues" still must be resolved.
After the late-night dinner, a member of the German delegation said a deal "could go quickly now if Tehran is ready to take the last steps."
The German government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, predicted that the negotiations would last through the night -- adding that "it could all still fail, but we have indeed come near to our goal. Negotiations are currently in the absolute final phase and are running intensely through the night."
Earlier, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on July 12: "It might seem we have reached the top of the mountain. But no, there are still steps needed to be taken."
Fabius, who arrived in Vienna on July 12 from an emergency cabinet meeting in Paris about the Greek debt crisis, said: "I hope, I hope, that we are finally entering the final phase of this marathon negotiation."
Fabius cancelled a planned trip to Africa in order to remain in Vienna on July 13.
The arrival of Lavrov at the Vienna talks on July 12 was seen by some observers as a sign that a deal could be close at hand.
Mogherini said on Twitter that these were the "decisive hours."
The Associated Press news agency cited two diplomats it did not identify as saying that negotiators plan to announce on July 13 that they have reached agreement on a deal, and that final details on a provisional agreement were being worked out.
Western official have said that Iranian and U.S. negotiators would need time to consult their capitals once an agreement was reached.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders were expressing doubts about a historic agreement with Iran - predicting that President Barack Obama could face hurdles in Congress.
McConnell said: "This is going to be a very hard sell for the administration."
Because the deadline for a deal has been extended three times during the Vienna talks, Congress now has 60 days to assess the deal and Obama is obliged to wait for that review before easing sanctions.
During those two months, Republican lawmakers could try to build a veto-proof majority behind new legislation that could impose new sanctions on Iran or prevent Obama from lifting the existing sanctions.
Such a development could effectively derail any final deal that might be reached in Vienna.
Global powers and Iran are seeking a deal that would limit Tehran's nuclear activities, making it harder for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for relief from UN, U.S., and EU sanctions that have harmed its economy.
Under a framework agreement reached in April in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran is required to cut the number of its centrifuges from more than 19,000 to just over 6,000.
It also is required to cut back its stockpile of enriched uranium -- which can be used to make a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high enough level -- from more than seven tons to about 350 kilograms.
The aim is to ensure that it would take Iran at least a year to acquire enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb.
But the diplomats at the talks in Vienna have been negotiating over the issue of exactly how to implement the Lausanne guidelines.
The negotiations also have faltered over the issue of granting UN nuclear inspectors access to military sites in order to investigate suspicions that Iran sought to develop nuclear weapons in the past.
The speed of sanctions relief has been a sticking point, and there are disagreements over a longstanding an arms embargo and a ban on Iran's ballistic missile program.
Iran's nuclear program has been a source of tension for over two decades. Negotiations bore little fruit until an interim agreement was reached in November 2013.
With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, ISNA, Interfax, TASS, and BBC
Copyright (c) 2015 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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