Nine days into marathon nuclear talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said the diplomatic efforts “could go either way,” cutting off all potential pathways for an Iranian atomic bomb or ending without an agreement that American officials have sometimes described as the only alternative to war.
The EU’s top foreign policy official, Federica Mogherini, said agreement was “very close.” But Kerry said there was still a ways to go.
“We are not yet where we need to be on several of the most critical issues,” Kerry told reporters outside the 19th-century Viennese palace that has hosted the negotiations.
World powers and Iran are hoping to clinch a deal by Tuesday, setting a decade of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and granting Iran significant relief from international sanctions. Kerry met for 3 ½ hours on Sunday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as top diplomats from the five other negotiating countries planned to return to Austria’s capital later in the evening.
“It is now time to see whether or not we are able to close an agreement,” Kerry said, after hobbling on crutches through 97-degree heat to a podium set up in a city square.
While “genuine progress” had been made and the sides “have never been closer, at this point, this negotiation could go either way. If the hard choices get made in the next couple of days, and made quickly, we could get an agreement this week,” Kerry said. “But if they are not made, we will not.”
The talks had appeared to be moving forward. On Saturday, diplomats reported tentative agreement on the speed and scope of sanctions relief for Iran in the accord, even as issues such as inspection guidelines and limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development remained contentious.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of “sharper” deal contours.
“But that shouldn’t deceive us,” he said. “There’s still a possibility that there will be a lack of courage and readiness in crucial points to build the bridges that we need to find to each other.”
Mogherini, formally the convener of the talks between Iran and six world powers, told reporters that as of Monday, foreign ministers and other top diplomats “are here to check and assess if the deal can be closed.”