Talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear pact with global powers were expected on Wednesday to adjourn for a week, diplomats said, with the remaining parties to the deal due to meet in the evening to sign off on the move.
The adjournment to June 10 would leave only eight days to reach agreement before Iran's presidential election, which is likely to usher in a hard line president. Delegates said that while a deal is possible by then, that timeline appears increasingly unlikely.
Formal meetings of the remaining parties - Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union - in a format known as the Joint Commission - have punctuated and book ended indirect talks between Iran and the United States on both countries returning to full compliance with the 2015 deal.
The EU chairs Joint Commission meetings in the basement of a luxury hotel and leads shuttle diplomacy between Iranian envoys and a U.S. delegation based in another luxury hotel across the road. Iran refuses to hold direct talks with Washington.
"A meeting of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will take place in Vienna today, Wednesday 02 June 2021," the European Union said in a statement, referring to the Iran nuclear deal by its official name.
The statement gave no time. One delegate said the meeting would take place in the early evening and another said 7:30 p.m. (1730 GMT). As the day wore on, however, other diplomats said the time was slipping.
"The meeting of the Joint Commission of #JCPOA is postponed until late evening," the head of Russia's delegation, Mikhail Ulyanov, who is also ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog, wrote on Twitter. He did not give a time.
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Two diplomats said the talks, which began in April and are in their fifth round, were expected to adjourn for a week, resuming on Thursday, June 10.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator said barriers to the revival of the deal are complicated but not insurmountable.
"Differences have reached a point where everyone believes these differences are not insolvable," Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state TV ahead of the meeting. "But the details are important and Iran's firm positions are important to be observed."
A U.S. official said the American delegation may return to Washington this week and suggested the talks were making slow headway.
"Some progress has been made, and we are neither dragging our feet nor speeding things up," said the U.S. official on condition of anonymity. "The talks will continue at a pace appropriate to address the significance of the issues being negotiated."
These last few rounds of discussions have helped crystallize the choices that need to be made by Iran and by the United States in order to achieve a mutual return to compliance, the U.S. official added. "There were no expectations this process would be easy or quick."
Iran's government spokesman on Tuesday denied that negotiations had stalled with the Islamic Republic's June 18 presidential election less than three weeks away.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors holds a quarterly meeting next week, with a number of the delegates at the nuclear talks due to take part.