Tense Iran nuclear talks to miss deadline as differences remain
VIENNA - Iran and major powers admitted during tense talks Sunday that their fast-looming deadline to nail down a historic nuclear deal would be missed as they struggled to overcome major differences.
Officials in Vienna said however that Tuesday's target date would only be missed by a few days, with Iran saying there was "no desire or discussion yet" on a longer extension.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meanwhile was set to return to Tehran for consultations, officials said, although the US said this was not a matter of concern.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said as he joined the talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers that the six powers were prepared to walk away if needed.
"We still have very big challenges if we are going to be able to get this deal done," Hammond told reporters.
"No deal is better than a bad deal. There are red lines that we cannot cross and some very difficult decisions and tough choices are going to have to be made by all of us," Hammond said.
Earlier Sunday, EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini said "political will" was still needed to get a deal after almost two years of intense diplomatic efforts to resolve the 13-year-old standoff.
"It is going to be tough, it has always been tough but not impossible," Mogherini told reporters.
Iran and the P5+1 group -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- are seeking to flesh out the final details of a accord that builds on a framework deal reached in Lausanne in April.
Zarif's deputy Abbas Araghchi suggested parts of that framework no longer applied because other countries had changed their positions.
"Some of the solutions found in Lausanne no longer work, because after Lausanne certain countries within the P5+1 made declarations... and we see a change in their position which complicates the task," he told Al-Alam television.
It is hoped a deal would end a standoff dating back to 2002 which has threatened to escalate into war and poisoned the Islamic republic's relations with the outside world.
But it must stand up to intense scrutiny by hardliners in Iran and the United States, as well as Iran's regional rivals Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, and Saudi Arabia.
"It is still not too late to go back and insist on demands that will genuinely deny Iran the ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons and prevent it from receiving vast sums to finance its aggression, its spreading out and the terrorist onslaught that it is pushing throughout the world," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
According to the Lausanne framework, Iran will slash the number of its uranium enrichment centrifuges, which can make nuclear fuel but also the core of a bomb, shrink its uranium stockpile and change the design of the Arak reactor.
In return it is seeking a lifting of a complicated web of EU, US and UN sanctions which have choked its economy and limited access to world oil markets.
But tough remaining issues include the timing and pace of this sanctions relief and UN access to Iranian military bases, something which Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday again ruled out.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper ahead of his arrival in Vienna that "if there is no clarity on this (inspections of military sites), there will be no deal."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius echoed this on Saturday, calling inspections of military sites one of three key conditions for a deal that he said were "not yet accepted by all parties."