Iran nuclear talks ‘reach deal’ on sanctions

US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) at the Vienna talks on Friday. Picture: AFP/Getty
US Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) at the Vienna talks on Friday. Picture: AFP/Getty
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WORLD powers and Iran have reached tentative agreement on how sanctions could be reduced – one of the most contentious issues as negotiators work towards a long-term deal preventing the country from developing its own nuclear weapons.

The annex, one of five meant to accompany the agreement, outlines which US and international sanctions will be lifted and how quickly. Senior officials of the seven-nation talks, which include US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, still have to sign off on the package.

Zarif used a YouTube posting to say a comprehensive agreement over its nuclear programme – which is expected within days – has never been closer.

He said that the agreement would open new ways to address common challenges such as extremism in the Middle East.

The word of significant progress indicated the sides were moving closer to a comprehensive accord that would set a decade of restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic benefits for the Iranians.

Sanctions relief is one of the thorniest disagreements between Iran and the United States, which has led the international pressure campaign against Iran’s economy. The US and much of the world fears Iran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity could be designed to make nuclear weapons; Iran says its programme is meant only to generate ­power and for other peaceful purposes.

Diplomats speaking off the record about this week’s confidential negotiations in Vienna, said the sanctions annex was completed this week by experts from Iran and the six world powers it is negotiating with: the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. They did not provide details of the agreement.

A senior US official did not dispute this account but said work remained to be done before the issue could be ­described as finalised. Negotiators are now striving to wrap up the deal by Tuesday.

Along with inspection guidelines and rules governing Iran’s research and development of advanced nuclear technology, the sanctions annex of the agreement had been among the toughest issues remaining to be resolved.

Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have made repeated demands for economic penalties to be lifted shortly after a deal is reached. Washington and its partners have said they’d take action after Iran verifiably complies with restrictions on enrichment and other elements of the nuclear programme.

Much of the negotiation on the matter has concerned sequencing, so that both sides can legitimately claim to have got their way. Several other matters related to sanctions also had posed problems.

The Obama administration cannot move too quickly to remove economic penalties because of Congress, which will have a 30-day review period for any agreement during which no sanctions can be waived.

American officials also had been struggling to separate the “nuclear-related” sanctions it is prepared to suspend from those it wishes to keep, including measures designed to counteract Iranian ballistic missile efforts, human rights violations and support for US-designated terrorist organisations.

To keep pressure on Iran, negotiators had been hoping to finalise a system for reintroducing sanctions if Iran cheats on the accord. Russia has traditionally opposed any plan that would see it lose its UN veto power and a senior Russian negotiator said this week that his government rejected any automatic “snapback” of sanctions.