Russia, one of the six major powers seeking to persuade Iran to
scale back its contested atomic activities to deny it any nuclear
bomb breakout capability, separately said the two sides were "far
apart" on the issue of uranium enrichment.
The remarks underlined the uphill task confronting negotiators, who
aim to hammer out a final settlement of the decade-old dispute over
the nature and scope of Iran's nuclear activity in the next four
The brief email from European Union official Helga Schmid to senior
officials of EU member states was written after a meeting between
Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and
Britain in Vienna on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Schmid is the deputy of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton,
who is coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the six nations.
Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful but the West fears it
may be aimed at developing the capability to make atomic bombs and
wants it curtailed.
In this week's talks, Iran and the powers locked horns over the
future of a planned Iranian nuclear reactor with the potential to
produce plutonium for bombs, and the United States warned that "hard
work" would be needed to overcome differences when the sides
reconvene on April 7.
This line was echoed in Schmid's email.
"Since we are at an early stage of the final and comprehensive
negotiations, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. On some
areas, positions differ widely," it said.
"However, the impression is that the Iranian negotiators remain very
committed to reach a comprehensive solution within the agreed
6-month period," Schmid added.
She was referring to a late July deadline for a long-term deal
agreed in an interim accord struck in November.
The meeting in Vienna was the second in a series that the six
nations hope will produce a verifiable settlement, ensuring Iran's
nuclear program is oriented to peaceful purposes only, and lay to
rest the risk of a new Middle East war.
IRAN HAPPY ABOUT TALKS
The two sides sought to spell out their positions on two of the
thorniest issues: the level of uranium enrichment conducted in Iran,
and its Arak heavy-water reactor. Iran denies Western suspicions
that it could be a source of plutonium.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif characterized the
latest round of negotiations as "very successful" in terms of
clarifying the issues involved, the Iranian official news agency
"In terms of understanding and clarification, Vienna-2 was among our
very successful round of talks ... extremely beneficial and
constructive," it quoted Zarif as saying.
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But Russia's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei
Ryabkov, made clear that major hurdles lie ahead, in comments
reported by Interfax news agency.
He said Iran and the powers agree that a solution should be based on
November's preliminary agreement but that Iran had "very
far-reaching demands" on enrichment, which can have both civilian
and military purposes.
"The positions on this issue are far apart," Ryabkov said.
Under the interim accord, designed to buy time for talks on a
long-term deal, Iran suspended higher-grade enrichment, a potential
route to bomb-making, in exchange for some easing of sanctions that
are battering its oil-dependent economy. But the powers want sharper
cuts in Iran's overall enrichment capacity.
Ryabkov said that great attention was paid to "issues of
restrictions on Iran's enrichment activity and on Iran's prospects
for enrichment activity in general", Interfax reported. "This is a
very serious issue, which is very labor-intensive and causes many
disputes," he said.
The next meeting of chief negotiators has been set for April 7-9,
also in the Austrian capital. Expert-level talks will be held before
then, officials say.
The over-arching goal is to transcend mutual mistrust and give the
West confidence that Iran will not be able to produce atomic bombs
while Tehran — in return — would win full relief from economic and
Iran denies that its declared civilian atomic energy program is a
front for developing the means to make nuclear weapons. But its
restrictions on U.N. inspections and Western intelligence about
bomb-relevant research have raised concerns.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Mehrdad
Balali in Dubai; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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