Iran, US ‘working hard’ on nuclear deal

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), former EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) meet in Muscat

Muscat - 

The United States and Iran are ‘working hard’ to achieve a final agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday as he held a second day of frantic negotiations with his Iranian counterpart in Muscat.

Asked at a brief photo opportunity if they were making progress, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “We will eventually.” Kerry added, “We are working hard.”

Talks concluded late on Monday night. No official statement was made on the progress so far.

H E Ali Akbar Sibeveih, Iran’s Ambassador to Oman thanked His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said for facilitating the talks. “Our foreign minister and Ashton will brief the technical directors of the P5+1 on Tuesday. A statement is likely to be issued to the media.”

Earlier, the key tripartite talks, chaired by European Union negotiator Catherine Ashton, entered the second day amid speculations that major differences on both sides may scuttle the final agreement.

The speculations were fanned by US President Barack Obama’s comment late on Sunday, where he cited ‘a big gap’ between Iran and world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme. “We may not be able to get there,” Obama said in an interview to CBS Face the Nation programme.

However, the statements by both Kerry and Zarif offered hope that all is not lost and that a deal is still possible. The stakes are high on both sides as the November 24 deadline approaches.

A deal could quell fears about Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb and help revive the country’s economy. It also would deliver a foreign policy triumph for the Obama administration before sceptical Republicans, who will control Congress next year, are able to scuttle it.

A likely deal will be seen as a diplomatic victory for Oman which had facilitated secret talks between Iran and the US in 2012-13 which resulted in bringing both sides to the negotiation table. H E Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Oman’s Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, had said a day earlier that “the meetings are a result of five years of efforts by the Sultanate to bridge the gaps between Iran and the West and bring all sides to the table to find a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear situation."

"By the level of commitment all parties are showing, we feel comfortable,” he said. “There is no going back...I feel that all parties are positively willing to reach an agreement.”

The hectic top-level diplomatic consultations saw Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel - the venue for the tripartite talks - turn into a fortress for two days with heavy security in place, both outside and inside the hotel.

 

US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) visits the Mattrah souk in Muscat. (AFP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) visits the Mattrah souk in Muscat. (AFP)

Renewal of diplomatic ties

Meanwhile, the British newspaper The Times reported on Monday that Washington and Tehran are exploring the renewal of diplomatic ties. While a final agreement on the latter’s nuclear programme is still away from becoming a reality, the long-sparring countries are already planning for what would happen the day after such a deal, according to the report.

The US might open a trade office in Tehran if a deal is reached, The Times report quoted Iranian government advisors as saying. They said the idea has already been discussed and it will be on the agenda in secret meetings this week between representatives from the two countries in Baku, Azerbaijan. Those talks will allegedly run parallel to this week's multilateral talks in Oman about the nuclear programme.

US officials denied the Iranian claims, The Times reported.

The establishment of a US office in Tehran would represent the renewal of US-Iranian diplomatic relations after 35 years. Washington severed ties following the storming of the US embassy there in 1979 by hardline students.

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