Iran: World Powers 'Unrealistic' in Demands Over Nuclear Program, Big Gaps Remain

Fifth round of talks ends in Vienna with no breakthrough, but Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says an agreement can still be reached by end of July.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives for a press briefing in Vienna, June 20, 2014.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives for a press briefing in Vienna, June 20, 2014. AP

The fifth round of talks between Iran and the six world powers on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program ended in Vienna on Friday afternoon, with substantial differences still remaining and only slight progress to account for. The negotiating teams will meet again in Vienna on July 2 for two and a half weeks of intensive and continuous negotiations, in an attempt to reach an agreement by July 20.

Representatives from Iran and the six powers – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – held since Monday intensive and difficult talks in Vienna. The sides began formulating the draft for the permanent agreement concerning Iran's nuclear program, but encountered deep differences on central issues such as the future of uranium enrichment and the timetable for removing international sanctions.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at a press conference after the talks that despite work having commenced on the wording of the draft agreement, its text includes many "words in brackets" – in other words, more controversial topics than points the sides agree on.

"We have disagreements on basic issues," Zarif said. "In some cases the other party is not realistic."

However, the Iranian foreign minister added that he believed a permanent agreement on Iran's nuclear program can be reached by July 20th. "I hope the other party adopts a realistic approach," he said. "We have shown our seriousness in the talks ... we are not in need of buying time."

Zarif also spoke about the differences between the sides regarding future uranium enrichment in Iran. Tehran seeks to expand its array of centrifuges, while the world powers expect it to drastically reduce their number.

According to Zarif, his country needs to continue to enrich uranium for "practical needs," chief among them the production of fuel for the nuclear plant in Bushehr. He said that some of the stances taken by the world powers concerning Iran's practical needs were "very radical" and "maybe only good for being said in interviews," but not in negotiations.

"I still feel the other side is not ready for real bargaining," he said. "They might be postponing it to the eleventh hour."

Zarif added that Iran expects the U.S. and the rest of the world powers to remove all of the sanctions as part of a permanent agreement. "Without that, there will be no solution," he said.

In contrast with Zarif's pessimistic message, representatives of the world powers tried to paint an outlook that was less bleak. The head of the Chinese negotiating team said that the talks yielded certain progress in light of the fact that the sides began work on the draft of a permanent agreement.

Michael Mann, spokesman for Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and representative of the world power to the talks, said that envoys from both sides "have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round in Vienna, beginning on July 2. We presented each other with a number of ideas on a range of issues, and we have begun the drafting process."  

Chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman told reporters following the talks that it was "still unclear" whether Iran would be willing to take the necessary steps to ensure the world that its nuclear program was strictly meant for peaceful purposes. 

Sherman noted there had been some progress in the talks' fifth round, seen in the fact that Iran and the world powers have begun to formulate a "working document" that will serve as the draft of a joint permanent settlement. However, she stressed that the working document includes many heavily bracketed articles, in light of the remaining differences.

A U.S. official who participated in the talks told reporters the Iranian delegation showed "a bit more realism" compared to the previous round of talks a few weeks ago. The official noted the six world powers consolidated their position regarding their demand that Iran significantly reduce the number of centrifuges for uranium enrichment in its possession, in addition to further demands from the Iranians.