Iran and world powers are meeting in Vienna for their latest nuclear talks. Negotiators hope to reach a lasting accord to permanently silence fears about Iran's atomic ambitions.
Though Iran has taken steps to meet the terms of an agreement reached in November, expectations remain low as the P5+1 - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, China, Russia, Britain and France) plus Germany - meet with the country Tuesday in Vienna.
Many nations suspect that Iran has long sought nuclear weapons, despite Tehran's insistence that its nuclear program has the pure purpose of providing energy, and Israel, for just one example, has expressed firm opposition to compromises.
Speaking in Iran on Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called himself "not optimistic," even saying that he expected talks to "lead nowhere" - although he was ultimately "not against them."
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton coordinates the negotiations on behalf of the P5+1. Scheduled in January, the talks beginning Tuesday should last several days and prove just the first round of many meetings in the coming months.
As 2013 drew to a close, international negotiators claimed to have made good progress in talks with Iran. On November 24 in Geneva, foreign ministers from the seven countries had struck a deal widely considered an enormous breakthrough after a decade of failed diplomatic efforts.
Under the accord, which took effect on January 20, Iran scaled back certain nuclear activities in exchange for minor relief from sanctions and a promise of no new penalties.
The P5+1 has, for example, asked Iran to close its Fordo nuclear facility, cut the number of centrifuges for enriching uranium, trim its stockpile of fissile material, and alter a new reactor under construction at Arak. These steps, plus much tighter UN inspections, would not entirely remove Iran's capability to build a bomb but would make it substantially more difficult.
Were these steps accomplished, the United States, European Union and UN Security Council would lift all sanctions on Iran.
Under the agreement, the international community has for the first time allowed Iran's enriching of uranium, a process that does indeed produce nuclear fuel - but potentially also the material for a bomb. However, the sanctions freeze lasts only until July 20 - though it can be extended by agreement - and experts say that success in Geneva came at the price of postponing discussion on more difficult issues.
mkg/tj (Reuters, AFP, AP)