VIENNA – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will fly back to Tehran and is expected to return by Tuesday to Vienna where negotiators are still at odds on some elements of a final nuclear deal, including the scope of monitoring.
Zarif’s shuttle diplomacy isn’t unexpected and his return to the capital for instruction could be a good thing, according to a U.S. administration official who asked not to be named in line with diplomatic rules. Negotiators will probably miss their June 30 deadline, said the source, confirming earlier reports.
“Tough choices will have to be made by all of us,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters on Sunday before joining the talks. “There are a number of different areas where we have major differences of interpretation in the details.”
The six world powers negotiating with Iran are offering sanctions relief in return for curbing the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. A successful outcome could boost Iran’s oil and natural gas trade and open up the market of 77 million people. Failure could again raise the risk of military conflict in the decade-long dispute.
“Agreement is in the fundamental interest of peace, not only in the Middle East but in the rest of the world,” China’s deputy foreign minister, Li Baodong, told reporters Sunday.
Long-term monitoring and verification of the possible military dimensions of past Iranian work is one of the most contentious issues still separating sides, according to four Western diplomats who asked not to be identified. Disputes center on how the International Atomic Energy Agency will apply its most powerful inspections tool, the so-called Additional Protocol, under a possible deal.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last week ruled out any “unconventional” inspections on Iranian territory. In the U.S., some members of Congress want unfettered access similar to what monitors got in Iraq following the first Gulf War.
“The West imagined that because they occupied Iraq they could talk forcefully,” Iran’s parliamentary leader, Ali Larijani, told an audience in Tehran on Sunday that included President Hassan Rouhani. “We welcome an agreement because it’s to everyone’s advantage, but don’t think that if you want to put more pressure that it will be tolerated.”
While Iran has become the most-inspected country in the world, receiving 1,692 person days of IAEA inspections last year, its refusal to implement the Additional Protocol has meant the agency can’t conclude that all of the Islamic Republic’s activities are for peaceful purposes.
Contention over the scope of inspections points to the distrust built up between Iran and the Vienna-based agency over the course of a 12-year investigation. Diplomats familiar with the IAEA’s Iran file have been trying to rebuild confidence by highlighting the fact that any visits to sensitive Iranian facilities would be “complementary” rather than “systematic.”
Complementary visits are those outside of declared nuclear and nuclear-related sites, which are covered by systematic IAEA inspections.
A second U.S. administration official also confirmed that inspections of sensitive facilities, including military bases, wouldn’t be undertaken systematically. Instead, IAEA and Iran would be able to negotiate managed access that would give inspectors what they need to know without revealing military and industrial secrets.
Among all the 125 countries that have the Additional Protocol in force, IAEA inspectors asked for a total of 78 complementary visits to sensitive facilities last year, up from 57 in 2012, according to restricted IAEA documents obtained by Bloomberg.
Of the 18 countries that allowed complementary access to IAEA inspectors last year, Japan had the most, with 19 visits. The IAEA reported that most countries didn’t receive any complementary visits by inspectors.
A final nuclear agreement may include details “like a negotiated number of complementary accesses for the next inspection period,” said Robert Kelley, a former IAEA director and the agency’s top investigator in Iraq before the 2003 war.
Iranian officials list a number of security concerns, including the assassination of five nuclear scientists and the introduction of a computer virus to damage the country’s nuclear infrastructure, to justify their opposition to unfettered access. In January, the U.S. confirmed it passed fake weapons-related blueprints to Iran’s IAEA mission.
“Strong political will is there from all the parties. We can get there,” European Union policy chief Federica Mogherini told journalists in Vienna. The “security of the world” hangs on reaching a nonproliferation agreement, she said.
Secretary of State John Kerry continued meeting through the day with counterparts from the P5+1 nations, which in addition to the U.S., also includes China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. Kerry is likely to meet again with Zarif before his departure back to Iran.