The decisive round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers opened in Vienna Saturday afternoon. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Palais Coburg hotel concluded after more than an hour. Talks will continue later in the afternoon.
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Kerry and Zarif are expected to hold marathon discussions in an attempt to reach a comprehensive agreement by the June 30 deadline. However, both sides estimate that the talks will inevitably be extended for several days, at least.
U.S. energy secretary Ernest Moniz and chief negotiator for the EU Helga Schmid are also participating in the Kerry-Zarif meeting. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia are due to join the talks over the weekend.
"I am hopeful, but many tough issues still remain," Kerry said at the beginning of the meeting.
Zarif told Iranian media on Saturday upon his arrival in Vienna that a comprehensive agreement is within reach, as long as the world powers do not make excessive demands.
"Iran will not agree to any extraordinary procedures," Zarif said, referring to inspections. "The other side needs to make some serious decisions. The sanctions must be removed immediately."
Zarif added that reaching a good agreement is more important than meeting the deadline.
The two main points of contention are the nature and scope of the monitoring mechanism to be imposed on Iran's nuclear program, as well as the schedule and pace of removal of international sanctions on Iran.
The world powers demand that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must be allowed to carry out surprise inspections of suspicious Iranian facilities and to visit military bases of both the Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guard where Iran is suspected of having experimented with components that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Iran has hardened their position over the past several days, withdrawing their willingness to allow UN inspectors "controlled access" to military bases and suspicious facilities.
Iran also demands the complete removal of sanctions immediately upon the signing of an agreement. The powers are prepared to gradually remove the sanctions, arguing that the sanctions will only be removed when IAEA inspectors can verify that Iran has begun to implement their part of the agreement.