By Pamela Dockins, VOA
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
VIENNA- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif returned to Vienna to rejoin the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program Tuesday, the day of the original self-imposed deadline for an agreement.
Zarif arrived with Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, who has been recovering from illness, after returning to Iran for consultations Sunday.
Upon their return, Zarif met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry emerged from the talks saying, “We had a good conversation.”
According to Iranian state media, Zarif said the fact that Salehi had joined the talks, in spite of his illness, showed Iran’s seriousness about the negotiations.
He also said what was needed was the “political determination” of the world powers involved in the talks so that the two sides could reach “an acceptable and sustainable conclusion.”
Key Highlights of Oct. 2014 Nuclear Deal
- Two-thirds reduction of installed centrifuges
- No uranium-enrichment over 3.67 percent purity for 15 years
- No uranium-enrichment facilities for 15 years
- One-year bomb breakout (production) time
- Fordow nuclear facility conversion; Arak reactor redesign
- Regular IAEA access
- Sanctions relief follows verified compliance
Midnight Tuesday had been the agreement deadline. Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5+1, have been seeking a deal that restricts Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
Negotiators now predict talks could continue a few more days.
"This is staggeringly consequential for everybody," said a senior U.S. administration official in a Monday briefing.
"This is incredibly consequential for the national security of the United States. This is quite consequential for the national security of all of the P 5 + 1 partners, the regions, the Middle East, the world and for Iran," the official added.
The official noted that what is currently under negotiation is considerably more detailed than the April 2 framework deal that set the parameters for a final agreement.
Kerry will also hold nuclear talks Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Negotiators have been tight-lipped about details from the talks, but the sticking points are believed to include access that inspectors from the U.N.'s nuclear agency would have to Iranian sites as well as the pace at which sanctions against Iran would be lifted.
“The difficulty with any king of a negotiation at this level is to keep it focused on the primary issue,” said General James Cartwright, a nuclear policy analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“For me, focus on the primary issue is the ability to stop and end any type of uranium or plutonium enrichment cycle up to weapons grade,” Cartwright said.
There have also been concerns about managed access - how quickly International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors could be cleared to visit suspected sites.
In Monday’s briefing, the administration official said the world powers engaged in talks with Iran had added a procedure to the plan of action under discussion that would ensure that IAEA inspectors would get managed access when they believed they needed it.
Earlier Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry led a delegation that met with Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Plea for detained American
On the sidelines of the nuclear talks Monday, family members of detained Iranian-American Amir Hekmati made a passionate plea for his return, urging Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif to take up his plight during their talks.
“I want my brother home,” said Hekmati’s sister, Sarah Hekmati.
“I want my dad to hold his son again. I want mom’s heart to stop breaking. ... I want this nightmare to end,” she said.
Family members said they fear Amir Hekmati contracted tuberculosis while in prison.
Iranian officials arrested Hekmati in 2011 and charged him with espionage. He is one of three American citizens being held in Iran.
The senior administration official said Kerry has had “direct” conversations with Zarif about the missing Americans and that U.S. officials work on their behalf on a daily basis.
Chris Hannas contributed to this report from Washington.
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