DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Monday that world powers were “demanding too much” in negotiations aimed at reaching a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program by a July deadline, but hurdles could be overcome.
Tehran and six world powers made little progress in the latest round of talks earlier this month in Vienna on ending their stand-off, raising doubts about the chances of a breakthrough by July 20.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in Tehran before a visit to Turkey for talks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on ways of advancing the talks, said a compromise was still possible despite the difficulties.
“They should stop demanding too much. We have our red line, and they too want assurances that our nuclear program will always remain peaceful. We believe these two add up,” the state news agency IRNA quoted Zarif as saying on Monday.
“I feel the realism awakened from the last round of talks will bring us closer to conclusion. We may be able to remove one of two of the previous hurdles, or rather face new ones. In any case, we should make an effort to pass through this phase.”
Iran considers the right to enrich uranium for nuclear energy a red line but that levels of enrichment are negotiable. Enriched uranium provides power for nuclear generating stations but also, if refined to a high level, for atomic bombs.
Western powers suspect Iran’s declared civilian nuclear energy program is a facade for seeking a weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies this although it has a history of hiding activity from U.N. nuclear inspectors.
The powers want Iran to agree to scale back enrichment and other proliferation-prone nuclear activity and accept tougher U.N. inspections to deny it any capability of quickly producing atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to economic sanctions.
Zarif said world powers should refrain from additional pressure on the Islamic Republic to force it into concessions.
“Sanctions haven’t served them any purpose, only led to our making 19,000 centrifuges,” he said, according to IRNA, referring to the machines that enrich uranium.
IRNA, quoting an unnamed foreign ministry official, said that Zarif would meet with Ashton in Istanbul for two days to “discuss ways of advancing the talks” ahead of the next round of negotiations starting in June in Vienna.
Iran and the United States have said that the last round in the Austrian capital was slow and difficult.
An interim deal reached in November between Iran and the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany could be extended for another six months should the sides fail to reach a long-term settlement by July 20.
But Iran is eager for a speedier resolution to the conflict.
“If we do not reach agreement by (the self-imposed July deadline), we still have another six months, but our goal is to reach a conclusion in these two months,” said Zarif.
Iran needs relief from damaging economic sanctions imposed over its disputed nuclear activity in order for President Hassan Rouhani to fulfill his election campaign promise last year of bringing Iran out of international isolation.
Reporting By Michelle Moghtader and Mehrdad Balali; editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich