BC-IRAN-NUCLEAR:TBW — national, itop (550 words)WASHINGTON — Negotiators facing a deadline this month to reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear program appear to be looking at one of the most contentious points of discussion as a possible route out of their impasse.
The issue is the duration of any deal. Iran and the six world powers at the negotiating table in Vienna have been far apart on this “sunset clause,” with Iran wanting a comprehensive deal to last only five years, while the United States and allies want it to stretch for two decades or longer.
Iran and the six powers — France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States — are seeking a deal that would lift international sanctions on Iran’s economy if it accepts curbs on its nuclear activities to ensure that it doesn’t gain the capability to make a bomb.
Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said Thursday that if Iran accepted limits on its nuclear activities as a way of building trust with the world powers, “it will only be for a specific time frame, and temporary.”
“None of our commitments are for eternity, and they will not be permanent,” he said in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency.
He said negotiators were seeking an agreement on the “sunset clause.” He noted that the interim deal reached with the world powers in November specified that the final agreement would have a limited duration.
Araqchi urged Iranians not to become alarmed by reports that Iran was making concessions, since any deal would be temporary.
A senior Obama administration official said Thursday that whatever terms Iran accepted, it would be free to choose its own path once the deal lapsed.
“What choices they make after they get to normal — that is, after a long duration of an agreement, when they will be treated as any other nonnuclear weapons state under the (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) — will, of course, be their choice,” the official said.
The official declined to be identified under ground rules set by the administration.
Ray Takeyh, an Iran specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, said this new emphasis could reflect a decision by Iran that it can make concessions on key points provided it can win agreement that the deal will have a limited duration.
In those circumstances, Iranian officials would be able to tell their nation’s citizens that they had won two big concessions: a lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear advancement, plus elimination of the sanctions that have been crushing the country’s economy.
From their perspective, this makes sense, Takeyh said. “Once the deal is over, they’re off to the races,” he said.
Still, agreement on the deal’s duration could be elusive. Influential U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia may resist an agreement lasting only a decade, as could U.S. lawmakers, who could still sink any deal.
Some Iran experts believe that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 76, might not accept a decade-long deal.
The talks entered a sixth round Wednesday and are expected to continue at least until July 20, the deadline. The two sides reached an impasse on key issues at a meeting in May.
On Friday, Araqchi and Helga Schmid, the European Union’s deputy foreign policy chief, met for another try at drafting the text of an agreement.
Earlier, a U.S. delegation led by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns met with an Iranian team led by Araqchi.Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.