Russia says 'very worrying' slowdown in Iran nuclear talks
VIENNA, Austria – Russia's negotiator said Friday, June 12 there has been a "very worrying" slowdown in progress in nuclear talks between Iran and 6 major powers ahead of a June 30 deadline to finalize a historic accord.
"The rate of progress... is progressively slowing down," Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti as he arrived for the latest round of talks in Vienna.
"This is very worrying to us because there is very little time before the deadline and we urgently need to enter the final stage."
Another Russian agency, ITAR-TASS, quoted a diplomatic source as saying that the talks – which were ongoing late Friday – are "practically stuck. There is a risk that the deadline will be extended again".
In April, Iran and the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany agreed in the Swiss city of Lausanne to the outlines of a deal aimed at ending the decade-old standoff over Iran's nuclear program. (READ: TIMELINE: Iran's 12-year nuclear standoff with the world)
According to this framework, due to be finalized by June 30, Iran will dramatically scale down its nuclear activities in order to render any dash to making nuclear weapons all but impossible.
In return Iran, which denies wanting nuclear weapons, will see painful sanctions lifted by the 6 powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke on Friday admitted the talks were proving "complicated", but nonetheless said the United States believes a deal can still be reached by June 30.
"We remain of the view that it's possible to reach – to conclude the talks by June 30th. That remains our focus," Rathke told reporters.
Seen as something of a hawk in the talks, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday, June 11 that the issue of tighter UN inspections of Iran's remaining facilities after the mooted deal was not yet sewn up.
"If we want to be sure that the accord is solid we need to be able to inspect the sites... We don't yet have this certainty. This is one of the points we are discussing," Fabius told French channel BFMTV and radio station RMC.
"The agreement needs to be verifiable, solid, robust and right now we don't have such a guarantee."
Under the hoped-for deal the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), would keep even closer tabs on Iran.
Iran though is uneasy about this since it would potentially include the IAEA going to sites – including military ones – where it suspects undeclared nuclear activity might be taking place. (READ: 'Significant gaps' remain in Iran nuclear talks – Kerry)
Other sticking points are thought to be the procedure for handling possible deal violations and an IAEA probe into allegations of past Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.
The 6 powers have said they will only lift sanctions once Iran has taken certain steps and want to retain the ability to "snap back" sanctions if the Islamic republic breaks the agreement.
The deal is also highly complex, comprising a main document of around 20 pages plus 5 "annexes" totaling an additional 40-50 pages, Iran's lead negotiator Abbas Araghchi said last Saturday, June 6.
"Each word of this instrument is being discussed and sometimes quarreled on," he said. "There are differences but work moves forward." (READ: No trust in Iran nuclear talks – top negotiator)
Meanwhile on Thursday it emerged that authorities in Switzerland and Austria – which have hosted most of the past 18 months of talks – were investigating possible spying on the negotiations.
This came after Russia-based security firm Kaspersky Lab said a malware dubbed Duqu, a sophisticated spy tool that was believed to have been eradicated in 2012, appeared to have been used to spy on the talks.
The Swiss attorney general's office said it launched a probe on May 6 and conducted a raid 6 days later, seizing computer equipment, due to "suspicion of illegal intelligence services operating in Switzerland".
Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself and which has major misgivings about the mooted deal, denied any involvement. (READ: Iran says nuclear deal will open 'new page' with world)
"We've taken steps throughout the negotiations to ensure that confidential details and discussions remain behind closed doors," US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said. – Simon Sturdee, AFP/Rappler.com