Crucial Iran nuclear talks begin in the sultanate

Javad Zarif (left) and John Kerry shake hands in the presence of H E Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Oman’s Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs and Catherine Ashton in Muscat on Sunday (AFP)

Muscat - 

Oman is playing host to crucial trilateral talks between Iran, United States and European Union who are seeking a breakthrough ahead of a looming deadline for a deal on Tehran's nuclear programme.

US Secretary of State John Kerry started a meeting on Sunday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif chaired by EU negotiator Catherine Ashton to try to close substantial gaps before November 24, when an interim agreement is meant to be turned into a comprehensive long-term settlement.

Oman’s Minister of Information H E Dr Abdulmunim bin Mansour bin Said al Hasani explained the key role the sultanate has played in bringing together the sides on the negotiating table.

“Oman has always worked towards peace in the region and the world. It was the vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said that saw Iran and US coming together for nuclear negotiations two years ago. This [current] meeting couldn’t have taken place without the key role that Oman played,” said H E Hasani.

“We want the meeting to be successful and we hope the negotiations will conclude on a positive note. It is very important for the region and the [larger] world that there is a peaceful agreement [on Iran’s nuclear programme],” he added.

The talks began at 11.30am at Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel but no questions were taken when the three leaders shook hands for the cameras. Kerry has said real gaps between Tehran and the world powers still exist in the negotiations. But the US remains hopeful a deal can be brokered in what would mark a major foreign policy success for the Obama administration.

On the plane to Muscat on Saturday, Zarif told reporters that Iran and the P5+1 have concentrated on ‘solutions rather than differences’ since talks on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September.

“There is still a gap between the two parties on the size of the enrichment programme and the mechanism for lifting sanctions,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

“If the other party acts with good political will, we can reach an agreement.”

In a statement issued later in the day, H E Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs said that Oman was optimistic that an agreement would be reached when the sides meet for talks again on Monday.

Following Monday’s talks, a full-scale conference of Iran with the P5+1 powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the US plus Germany - is scheduled on Tuesday, also in Muscat. Ashton, who will see out the nuclear negotiations until November 24, will also chair this meeting.

The talks move back to Vienna on November 18 for a final push towards the deadline six days later.

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