Zarif Sees 'Signs' of Nuclear Deal with West

Iranian Foreign Minister says nuclear deal could be reached with major powers, as latest round of talks concludes.

Elad Benari ,

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that he saw "signs" that a long-term nuclear deal could be reached with major powers after the latest round of talks in Vienna, AFP reported.

"There are signs that an understanding is possible that respects the rights of the Iranian nation," the Fars news agency quoted Zarif as saying.

"It is planned that we start work during a meeting scheduled for the month of Ordibehesht (April 21 to May 21)... on drafting the text of an agreement," he added.

"That is to say we will have spent three months conducting comprehensive negotiations and will spend the next three months drawing up the final agreement," said Zarif.

Under a six-month interim deal which was reached in November and went into effect in January, Iran agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment program in return for sanctions relief worth some $6-7 billion, including the transfer of some $4.2 billion in frozen overseas funds.

That interim agreement is meant to lead to a final accord that minimizes any potential Iranian nuclear weapons threat in return for a full lifting of sanctions.

The latest round of talks wrapped up on Wednesday, with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton describing them as "substantive and useful."

Zarif said he was "pleased" with the discussions so far on four key issues in any agreement - Iran's Arak heavy water reactor, its enrichment of uranium, civil nuclear cooperation and the lifting of Western sanctions.

"On the (lifting) of the sanctions, it seems that we are getting close to an agreed plan," Zarif said, according to AFP.

But he said there was no agreement on the Arak reactor which Western governments want to remain uncompleted for fear that its plutonium waste could give Iran an alternative route to a nuclear bomb.

"The Arak rector is part of Iran's nuclear program and will remain so. But if there are any concerns about the reactor, they should be addressed," he declared.

Zarif said negotiations would continue at the experts level ahead of the next round of talks on April 7.

The Arak plant has been a sticking point in negotiations between Iran and the West. Satellite images from almost a year ago showed that the plant was operational, raising fears that it is being used to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

Wendy Sherman, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, stated last December, "Quite frankly, we're not quite sure what you need a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor, which is what Arak is, for any civilian peaceful purpose."

The six powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany - want Iran to reduce permanently, or at least for a long time, the scope of its nuclear activities in order to make it extremely difficult for it ever to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has always denied any such ambition.