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Kerry Meets With Zarif, Ashton In Vienna

  • RFE/RL

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) as EU envoy Catherine Ashton looks on at nuclear talks on November 20.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right) as EU envoy Catherine Ashton looks on at nuclear talks on November 20.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has begun a meeting in Vienna with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif as a next-week deadline for an agreement in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program rapidly approaches.

Kerry was also meeting with EU envoy Catherine Ashton, who until this month was the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

Kerry had said in Paris following talks with the French and Saudi foreign ministers earlier in the day that world powers were "united" in their search for a deal.

"Yes, we do want an agreement but not any agreement. We are united all of us in the P5+1," Kerry said in a reference to the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France plus Germany.

He also said that "we are not talking about an extension" as Iran nuclear negotiations near a commonly agreed November 24 deadline.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki posted a photo of the three diplomats as they kicked off their meeting late on November 20:

Russia's chief negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, told Russian agency RIA Novosti on November 20 that the talks were being held in a tense atmosphere and getting a deal would be very difficult.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on November 20 urged world powers and Iran to show flexibility.

Ban said a deal on Iran's nuclear capacities would contribute to world peace and security "at a time when global cooperation is needed more than ever."

Federica Mogherini, Ashton's successor as EU foreign affairs chief, urged Iran to compromise, saying Tehran must take a "strategic decision" to win a landmark deal by next week's deadline.

"This is the time for Iran to take the strategic decision to open the way for a historic and final settlement of the nuclear issue," said Mogherini.

Ashton has stayed on as the EU's negotiator in the nuclear talks.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said upon arrival in Vienna on November 18 that an agreement was "possible."

But he warned that if a deal could be reached it would be because the P5+1 group of countries negotiating with Iran asked for too much.

Zarif told Iranian media, "If, because of excessive demands...we don't get a result, then the world will understand that the Islamic republic sought a solution, a compromise and a constructive agreement and that it will not renounce its rights and the greatness of the nation."

The target of the talks is a deal that would curb Iran's nuclear program and eliminate concerns it could developing atomic weapons and lead to the removal of UN and Western sanctions that have hurt Iran's oil-dependent economy and sent inflation and unemployment soaring.

In months of negotiations since an interim deal was reached in November 2013, a major sticking point has been over Iran's refusal to substantially cut the size and output of centrifuges that can enrich uranium levels high enough to be used in nuclear warheads.

Iran denies Western accusations that its nuclear program aims secretly at developing a nuclear weapon, saying it is meant only for peaceful purposes such as power generation.

But an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on November 7 said Iran was failing to address the accusations.

As part of its probe, the IAEA has for years sought access to Parchin, a sprawling military establishment southeast of Tehran.

The head of theIAEA said on November 20 that Tehran should quickly answer remaining questions on alleged nuclear weapons projects.

Director General Yukiya Amano told the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors in Vienna, "We have been asking Iran to give us access to Parchin...but so far Iran has not agreed to grant access to us. We will continue to request the access to Parchin."

Amano said, "I call upon Iran to increase its cooperation with the agency and to provide timely access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel."

Based on reporting by AP and AFP