Iran Talks In Vienna As Nuclear Deadline Draws Near

Officials met in Vienna Sunday for talks ahead of the July 20 deadline for Iran to end its nuclear program, the culmination of a temporary agreement reached in January.

The Associated Press, reporting from Vienna, says that an extension could be likely due to “deep differences” between Iran and the six world powers led by the United States.

“Obviously we have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress,” Kerry said in Vienna, according to the AP. “It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop nuclear weapons, that their program is peaceful. That’s what we are here trying to achieve.”

Representatives of the six world powers and Iran are meeting in the Austrian capital to assess where progress on a nuclear stands, and whether it is possible to come to an agreement by July 20.

The talks come against the backdrop of continuing violence in Israel, as that country stages military operations in the Gaza Strip. According to the Jerusalem Post, American officials see “Iran partially at fault in the Gaza crisis.”

“Iran has a longstanding record of supplying weapons, rockets, to various terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas,” the Jerusalem Post quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying from Vienna. “These rockets are being used to fire at civilian areas, and Iran has a responsibility to cease and desist from continuing to supply weapons in this conflict.”

The U.S. has also been facing a political crisis in Afghanistan, with Kerry arriving in Vienna Sunday after two days of negotiations in Kabul over a contentious election result.

According to the AP, the French, British, German, and Iranian foreign ministers will also be in attendance for the talks, but only “lower-ranking officials” are being sent from China and Russia, which “may reflect their view that an extension is unavoidable.”

The talks will include a rare direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohhamad Javad Zarif.

But while the Obama administration had been optimistic earlier this year when the interim agreement was first announced, officials have been less certain that success was imminent as the July 20 deadline nears.

“All you had to do is listen this week to the public comments coming from some in Iran’s leadership to see that we are still very far apart on some issues, and obviously, on enrichment capacity,” a senior official told Time on Saturday.

Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, Zarif denied that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons.

“We don’t see any benefit in Iran developing a nuclear weapon,” he told host David Gregory. “It doesn’t help anybody. The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction — that is the way the United States, Russia and others, seek peace and security through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over is simply mad.”

[photo: U.S. State Department]