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Image credits: EU representative Helga Schmid (L) and Iran's Abbas Araghchi take part in the P5+1 powers and Iran talks in Vienna, Austria on June 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR

Russia Says 'Worrying' Slowdown in Iran Nuclear Talks, Risk To Extend Deadline

VIENNA: Russia’s negotiator said Friday there has been a “very worrying” slowdown in progress in nuclear talks between Iran and six 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 took place Friday, are “practically stuck. There is a risk that the deadline will be extended again.”

In April, Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany agreed to the outlines of a deal aimed at ending the decade-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

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 seeking nuclear weapons, will see painful sanctions lifted by the six powers.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke 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 that the issue of tighter U.N. 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 U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, 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.

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 six 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 five “annexes” totaling an additional 40-50 pages, Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araghchi said last Saturday.

“Each word of this instrument is being discussed and sometimes quarreled on,” he said. “There are differences but work moves forward.”

Meanwhile, it emerged Thursday 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.

The Swiss attorney general’s office said it launched a probe on May 6 and conducted a raid six days later, seizing computer equipment, due to “suspicion of illegal intelligence services operating in Switzerland.” Israel, which has major misgivings about the mooted deal, denied any involvement.

“We’ve taken steps throughout the negotiations to ensure that confidential details and discussions remain behind closed doors,” U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

Source: The Daily Star

Written by The Levant