By STEVEN ERLANGERFEB. 20, 2014 VIENNA — In what officials described as a serious, workmanlike and conversational atmosphere, Iran and six world powers have agreed on a timetable and framework for negotiating a comprehensive agreement to end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s foreign minister said Thursday.
While details were vague and the two delegation leaders declined to take questions at a closing news conference, they said that groups of experts would meet early in March and that the full delegations would meet again on March 17, with the expectation that they would meet monthly.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said: “We had three very productive days during which we have identified all the issues we need to address to reach a comprehensive and final agreement. There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy, but we have made a good start.”
Officials refused to describe the topics for the expert meetings, but a senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under the session’s ground rules, said, “Every issue of concern to us is on the table,” including uranium enrichment, Iran’s heavy-water reactor project and its suspected nuclear military research and ballistic missile program. All these issues, the official said, including clarifying the issue of Iran’s past military research, are at least mentioned in a joint plan of action agreed upon with Iran in November in Geneva. “All our concerns must be met to get an agreement,” said the American official, defining Washington’s goals as ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and that world powers can be confident that Iran’s nuclear program has no military aspect or intent, as Iran maintains.
The care that officials on all sides took not to say anything very specific was striking, as was the positive atmosphere they described in the meetings themselves, which were said by one official to have no element of political rhetoric or posturing, even over “areas of difficulty.” It was clear that most of the work here was about setting an agenda and establishing the priority of the issues at stake, without entering into a substantive discussion of those issues.
Iranian officials have said publicly that only their nuclear program is on the agenda, not their larger military structure, and that they will not dismantle any part of their nuclear program or give up what they have called their right to modernize it. American officials have emphasized that large parts of Iran’s “nuclear infrastructure” will have to be dismantled, as opposed to simply disabled, as part of a final deal.
A six-month deal to essentially freeze Iran’s program in return for modest relief from sanctions and the release of some frozen assets expires on July 20. The officials said they had planned meetings throughout the next four months, but wanted to leave the last month free because talks tend to accelerate and intensify closer to deadlines.
“This is going to be both a marathon and a sprint at the same time,” the American official said. The six-month deal can be extended if both sides agree.
Western officials and experts concede that Iran will have an enrichment program, but they want to constrain and control it to ensure that Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon quickly or undetected. They want some formula that limits the level of enrichment; caps the stockpiles of enriched uranium; dismantles or decommissions a large number of Iran’s centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium; removes the possibility that the heavy-water reactor will produce plutonium; and allows a deeper level of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, signed by Iran. Recent Comments Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma, 5 hours ago
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The atomic agency said in a report published on Thursday that Iran was meeting its commitments under the six-month deal. The report said that enrichment of uranium to “medium levels” had stopped, and that a part of Iran’s stockpile of that uranium “is being down-blended, and the remainder is being converted to uranium oxide,” as the deal requires. Enrichment to lower levels continues, the agency said, but no additional centrifuges have been installed, and work has been suspended at the Arak heavy-water reactor. ------ ...