Nuclear talks between Iran, US and EU end with little progress

Deadline for agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme is two weeks away

US secretary of state John Kerry shakes hands with Oman’s foreign minister Yussef bin Alawi as EU envoy Catherine Ashton and Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif watch before talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme began in Muscat on Sunday.  Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/Reuters

US secretary of state John Kerry shakes hands with Oman’s foreign minister Yussef bin Alawi as EU envoy Catherine Ashton and Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif watch before talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme began in Muscat on Sunday. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/Reuters

 

Iran, the United States and the European Union ended two days of high-level talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme today with no immediate sign they had bridged gaps ahead of a November 24th deadline for an agreement.

A senior Iranian official said that minimal progress was made in the talks in Oman. “After hours of talks, we could make little progress,” the official said. “Still differences remain and still we have gaps over issues.”

In Washington, state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the talks among Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, US secretary of state John Kerry and EU envoy Catherine Ashton had been “tough, direct and serious”. She gave no further details, but said that they were “continuing to chip away at a very challenging issue”.

Mr Kerry was leaving Oman late today for an Asia-Pacific meeting in Beijing. Diplomats from Iran and the “P5+1” countries – the five UN Security Council members, plus Germany – are due to resume talks in Muscat tomorrow ahead of a last-ditch push in Vienna next week to meet the November 24th deadline.

Verifiable limits

As they had begun an evening session of the closed-door talks at a luxury hotel, Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif were cautious. Asked whether the negotiating teams were making progress, Mr Kerry merely replied: “We are working hard. We are working hard.” Mr Zarif said: “We will eventually.”

US president Barack Obama said in a CBS television interview there was still a big gap between Iran and western powers and said a deal could be out of reach.

Push for deal

A final step would involve Iran providing “verifiable, lock-tight assurances that they can’t develop a nuclear weapon”, he said. “There’s still a big gap. We may not be able to get there.”

Western countries suspect Iran has secretly attempted to acquire the means to build nuclear weapons Iran says it wants peaceful nuclear energy only, but has refused to curb enrichment capacity and has been hit by damaging US, EU and UN Security Council sanctions.

The toughest outstanding issues are the size of Iran’s enrichment programme, the length of any final accord and the pace at which sanctions would be phased out, diplomats say.