BRUSSELS, March 22, /ITAR-TASS/. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said she was optimistic about chances to sign a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue.
The agreement must become reality, she said on Saturday, March 22, at the Brussels Forum organised by the German Marshall Fund.
At the same time, she noted that the sides were at the very beginning of the process that should lead to a comprehensive agreement.
The full-format round of talks between P5+1 international mediators with the participation of Ashton and the Iranian delegation led by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was held in Vienna on March 17-19. They discussed a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme on the basis of the Joint Plan of Action approved in Geneva on November 24, 2013.
The participants discussed sanctions, Iran’s enrichment activities, international cooperation with Iran in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy, and ways to resolve concerns over the heavy water reactor in Iran’s Arak.
They agreed to continue intensive contacts between the P5+1 and Iran at the political and technical levels. Experts will meet again in early April. Their consultations will be followed by full-format talks in Vienna on April 7-9.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi said the next round of talks on a final nuclear agreement will be held on April 7-9. He termed the atmosphere at the ongoing Vienna II talks as “good but also frank and serious”.
“Today’s discussions were definitely useful,” the IRNA news agency quoted him as saying on March 19. “Aragchi said that while today’s meetings featured the issue of enrichment, peaceful nuclear cooperation and the removal of sanctions, tomorrow’s talks would zoom on the Arak heavy water reactor,” he said.
While Aragchi stressed that the question of trust was “very important”, he also made clear that the “main challenge” was to address the issue of mistrust, IRNA said.
He reaffirmed that confidence-building measures were a major part of any agreement.
Foreign Minister Zarif was also optimistic about the chances of signing a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme before July 20, 2014.
He said the talks were moving well and described them as “very substantive, serious and useful.”
Ashton stressed that the talks were “substantive and useful” and covered a set of issues, including enrichment, the Arak reactor, civil nuclear cooperation and sanctions.
“We will meet again on 7 to 9 April 2014 in Vienna and continue our work on the substantial areas which we intend to cover in a comprehensive agreement. In the meantime, technical experts will meet to further elaborate on the details of the relevant issues,” she said.
“Everyone is in the working mood and there are grounds to hope that progress will be achieved but without crucial agreements since this is only the second round,” the diplomat said.
He recalled that the work had never stopped after the previous round: “experts met in early March, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was in Moscow, and telephone calls were exchanged among the P5+1 members.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed hope that the second round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 would lead to the final agreement that will resolve all remaining questions about the Iranian nuclear programme.
“We want the second round to end with the final agreement that will close all questions concerning the Iranian nuclear programme and stop the sanctions,” he said.
The interim nuclear deal made on November 24, 2013, called for taking the first step of reciprocal actions to prove good faith in a six-month period to be followed by negotiations for a comprehensive agreement, according to which the Western governments will acknowledge the Iranian nuclear programme as civilian.
The previous round of technical consultations between Iran and the P5+1 at the level of experts ended in Geneva on December 31, 2013. A source involved in the negotiating process told ITAR-TASS that “substantial progress” had been achieved.
The main purpose of the consultations was to work out concrete steps to implement the Joint Plan of Action, which was agreed at the ministerial level in Geneva in late November 2013.
After many days of intensive discussions, the sides agreed the joint action plan in November. According to the plan, which spans a period of six months, Tehran pledged not to enrich uranium above a 5 percent concentration, not to continue fuel enrichment operations at Natanz, Fordo and Arak, and not to create new enrichment facilities.
Western countries, in turn, agreed to ease economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran will see the removal of sanctions on oil, petrochemicals, auto industry, gold and metal trades as well as parts of the aviation sector, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said, adding that a total amount of 4.2 billion U.S. dollars’ worth of Iranian frozen assets would ultimately be released.
Iran has already received the first portion of its assets frozen earlier in Western banks. This is the first part of Iran’s 4.2 billion U.S. dollars’ worth of oil revenues that were frozen abroad. The money will be transferred to Iran in eight installments.
The Western governments will guarantee an end to the propaganda campaign against the Iranian nuclear programme and the lifting of the sanctions they imposed on Iran, IRNA said.
The deal was called the first step to be followed by a comprehensive agreement, which, on the one hand, should resolve the international community’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme and, on the other hand, remove economic sanctions that slow down Iran’s economic development.
The agreement reached by and between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany) in Geneva last year became effective on January 20.
Araghchi told IRNA that there was a mutual understanding between Iran and G5+1 to enter into the next phase after implementing the first step of the interim agreement.