No Start Date for Iran Nuclear Freeze Expected from Vienna Talks


Experts from Iran, world powers and the U.N. atomic watchdog discussing how to implement November's nuclear deal are set to fall short of agreeing a start date for Tehran's six-month nuclear freeze, diplomats said.

The meeting between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany – the so-called P5+1 -- was making progress however, they said.

Michael Mann, spokesman for the P5+1 chief negotiator at last month's talks in Geneva, Catherine Ashton, said the gathering would continue for a third unscheduled day on Wednesday.

"It's certainly going well in terms of that the talks are lengthy and that they are constructive discussions," one Western envoy involved in the meeting in Vienna told Agence France Presse on condition of anonymity.

"My sense is that given that there are seven or eight entities involved with their own views it's inevitably going to take time."

He and a second participant said however that it was unlikely to result in an announcement of when Iran will start its promised six-month freeze of parts of its nuclear program, as agreed in a deal late last month.

"It's difficult to imagine that happening," the second diplomat said. Instead this may be decided in a so far unscheduled meeting of political directors from Iran and the six powers.

Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Reza Najafi, told reporters late Tuesday that the talks were going well, without giving further details. Asked if the negotiations were positive, he said: "Yes."

Najafi said last month that he expected the six months to start in late December or early January. Other diplomats and analysts have said this may be ambitious.

In a major diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva on November 24, Iran undertook to implement the temporary freeze in return for modest relief from U.N. and Western sanctions that have hit its economy hard.

The Vienna meeting of nuclear, sanctions and finance experts, which began Monday and also involves the IAEA, is aimed at thrashing out how the interim deal will be implemented and how the measures will be monitored by the IAEA.

During the half-year period, Iran and the P5+1 are due to negotiate a "comprehensive" deal aimed at ending for good the standoff over Iran's nuclear program after a decade of failed attempts and rising tensions.

Iran says its program is peaceful, but many in the international community fear it is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, not least since Tehran is producing far more fissile material than its civilian nuclear facilities need at present.

Israel, itself widely thought to have nuclear weapons and which has refused to rule out military action, has sharply criticized the Geneva deal. Many Gulf monarchies are also unsettled by it.

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