Vienna, Jul 13: Iran and major powers will on Monday seek to put the finishing touches to a historic nuclear deal, with both sides saying an accord ending a 13-year standoff lies tantalisingly within reach.
The talks, the latest set of which have dragged on for more than two weeks, aim to nail down an agreement curbing Iran's nuclear activities to make it extremely difficult for Tehran - which denies any such goal - to develop the atomic bomb.
There had been optimism that a deal would be clinched over the weekend, but finalising a framework accord struck in April has proved difficult, with talks stumbling on the exact timing of sanctions relief and Iran's desire to have a UN conventional arms embargo lifted.
"We have come a long way. We need to reach a peak and we're very close," President Hassan Rouhani said in Iran yesterday. "We are so close that if you look down from below you feel as if we have got there, but when you do get there you know there are still some steps to take." A German diplomatic source warned the talks "could yet fail". "But we really are nearly there.
The decisive moment has arrived. If Tehran is ready to take the final steps then things can go very quickly," the source said late yesterday. Such an accord, if it can be agreed, approved and upheld by all concerned, would draw a line under 13 years of failed diplomacy and threats of military action. In return, Iran will be granted staggered relief from painful sanctions.
Although the six powers - the so-called P5+1 of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - insist on the option of reimposing the restrictions if Tehran breaches the agreement. Foreign ministers from all seven countries - with the possible exception of China - were expected to be present in Vienna today.
The current diplomatic effort dates back to Rouhani's coming to power in 2013. He sought a rapprochement with the West and an end to his country's diplomatic and economic isolation.
The prospect of a thawing of relations between Iran and the US unsettles many in the Middle East, however, not least Tehran's rivals Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies.
Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, is also deeply concerned, complaining that the mooted deal will fail to stop its arch foe getting the bomb.