Agenda set for next round of Iran nuke talks in May

The next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the major powers will attempt to “bridge the gaps” toward a comprehensive agreement, the top European negotiator said.

“A lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences ahead,” Catherine Ashton, the top European Union foreign policy official, said April 9 at a news conference summing up two days of talks in Vienna between Iran and the six powers — the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China.

“We will now move to the next phase in the negotiations, in which we will aim to bridge the gaps in all the key areas and work on the concrete elements of a possible comprehensive agreement,” she said.

The next talks are scheduled to take place in the Austrian capital over two days starting May 13.

Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, addressing the same news conference, read the same statement in his native Farsi but added that he believed the sides were “50-60” percent close to a deal.

The deadline for such a deal is the end of July, although the talks may then be extended.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told Iranian nuclear scientists April 9 that negotiations would not “stop or slow down any of Iran’s activities in nuclear research and development,” according to a Reuters translation of his remarks.

On April 8, Secretary of State John Kerry faced blunt questions from the Senate on the talks, including repeated reminders that Congress must approve multiple aspects of any deal, especially those concerning any rollback of sanctions.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern at reports that the United States would settle for a “breakout” for Iran of six to 12 months, referring to the period in which Iran could create enough fissile material for a nuclear device.

Kerry said that Iran’s breakout time now stood at two months, and that six to 12 months was “significantly more” than that. He said the key component of the agreement would be rigorous monitoring. He also said that in every meeting with Iranian officials, U.S. officials bring up the status of three Americans held in Iran, including Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who is Jewish. — jta