By Siavosh Ghazi and Simon Sturdee
Iran and world powers are engaging in a last-ditch diplomatic blitz to nail down a nuclear deal in less than 36 hours, with Tehran signalling it is open to extending talks by up to a year.
Officials on both sides insisted however that for Sunday at least, they were still pulling out all the stops to nail down in Vienna what would be a mammoth agreement by midnight Monday.
However, large gaps appeared to remain in crucial areas of the negotiations involving the future size of Iran's nuclear programme and the pace of any sanctions relief for the Islamic republic.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) have been locked in talks with Iran for months to turn an interim deal struck in Geneva that expires on Monday into a lasting accord.
Such an agreement, after a 12-year standoff, is aimed at easing fears that Tehran will develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities, an ambition it hotly denies.
"What a deal would do is take a big piece of business off the table and perhaps begin a long process in which the relationship not just between Iran and us but the relationship between Iran and the world, and the region, begins to change," US President Barack Obama in an ABC News interview aired Sunday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Vienna since Thursday, was set to hold his sixth meetings later Sunday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived on Saturday, calling the talks a "moment of truth", while his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, a key player, arrived late afternoon Sunday and was due to meet Kerry.
Their counterparts from Britain and France, Philip Hammond and Laurent Fabius, were due later Sunday and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi by Monday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, concerned about any US-Iran rapprochement, also jetted into the Austrian capital, with Kerry updating the prince on his plane at Vienna airport about the talks, diplomats said.
Kerry on Saturday spoke to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone. The Jewish state, widely thought to have nuclear weapons itself, has not ruled out bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.
Netanyahu warned Sunday of the "historic mistake" of a deal leaving large parts of Iran's nuclear facilities intact.
Diplomats on both sides say that the two sides remain far apart on the two crucial points of contention: uranium enrichment and sanctions relief.
Enriching uranium renders it suitable for peaceful purposes like nuclear power but also at high purities for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.
Tehran wants to massively ramp up the number of enrichment centrifuges - in order, it says, to make fuel for future reactors - while the West wants them dramatically reduced.
Iran wants painful UN and Western sanctions that have strangled its vital oil exports lifted, but the powers want to stagger any relief over a long period of time to ensure Iranian compliance with any deal.
Watch the video to see Auckland University international relations expert Dr Stephen Hoadley discuss the deal on Firstline.
source: newshub archive