VIENNA — Secretary of State John Kerry began on Saturday what the Obama administration hopes will be the final push for a nuclear accord with Iran, just three days before a deadline for concluding an agreement.
However, American officials have almost discounted the notion that a deal will be made by Tuesday’s deadline. Their goal is to bridge a number of technical and political divides over the next week in hopes of getting a final accord to Congress by July 9.
If the administration hits that target, Congress will have 30 days to review the accord under the terms of legislation that President Obama signed in May. If a deal came later in the summer, that review period would extend to 60 days because of the August congressional recess, which would give opponents in Congress more time to mobilize against the agreement.
“I think that everybody would like to see an agreement, but we have to work through some difficult issues,” Mr. Kerry said at the start of his meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
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Mr. Zarif added, “I agree, maybe not on the issues, but on the fact that we need to work really hard in order to be able to make progress and move forward.”
Though some of the main parameters of the accord were negotiated in early April, much was left unresolved. Almost immediately, the United States and Iran issued separate statements on what had already been settled.
In the weeks since, pronouncements from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have appeared to backtrack on some fundamental elements of the preliminary agreement, including how long provisions in the accord would be in effect.
Major differences appear to remain on inspection provisions, the pace at which economic sanctions against Iran would be removed and how quickly Iran could expand its uranium enrichment capability during the final years of an accord.
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“What we want is a robust deal that recognizes Iran’s right to civil nuclear power, but guarantees that Iran gives up definitively the nuclear weapon,” Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, said after arriving here on Saturday to meet with Mr. Zarif.
Mr. Fabius added: “For this there are three indispensable conditions: a lasting limitation of Iran’s research and development capacity; a rigorous inspection of sites, including military if needed; and the third condition is the automatic return of sanctions in case it violates its commitments.”
Mr. Kerry’s flight here was his first foreign trip since he was hospitalized in Boston after breaking his leg while cycling in France last month. Mr. Kerry, who is using crutches, is traveling with a State Department doctor and a physical therapist.
Mr. Kerry was joined here by Ernest J. Moniz, the United States energy secretary, who has played a pivotal role in recent rounds in negotiating some of the important and highly technical nuclear provisions.
But Mr. Moniz’s Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, who recently underwent surgery, was not expected to attend. Mr. Salehi earned a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Mr. Moniz was a physics professor. The dialogue between the two physicists — hailed by both sides as far less fraught with politics than the discussions between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Zarif — has been credited with getting past several major negotiating roadblocks.
The absence of Mr. Salehi, a former foreign minister who holds considerable sway with Mr. Khamenei, could be an impediment to reaching a final accord, American and European officials say. Mr. Salehi participated in last month’s round of talks in Geneva in a conference call, and it was not clear if that arrangement would continue. Mr. Salehi has a deputy here in Vienna, but he has not been meeting directly with Mr. Moniz.
A senior Iranian official said on Saturday that the Iranian side would not object to a short extension of Tuesday’s deadline, but did not favor prolonging the deadline for months.
“We seek to reach a conclusion, and in this round, we do not intend to extend like the previous rounds for several months, but it is possible that a couple of days would be needed for the job to continue,” the official, Abbas Araqchi, told an Arabic-language news network.
Iran’s supreme leader has stressed the importance of quickly easing economic sanctions.
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(via NY Times)