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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Iran’s nuclear talks envoy signals importance of final week push

The attendance of Hossein Fereydoun, the younger brother of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, signals the importance of the talks to Tehran, says one analyst.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, left, holds a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, on the second day of talks over Tehran's nuclear program in Vienna on July 14, 2014. Jim Bourg/Reuters
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, left, holds a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, on the second day of talks over Tehran's nuclear program in Vienna on July 14, 2014. Jim Bourg/Reuters

VIENNA // Iran has for the first time sent President Hassan Rouhani’s younger brother as a special observer to the nuclear talks in Vienna, signalling the importance of the final week of negotiations before a July 20 deadline.

The presence of Hossein Fereydoun, who also serves as a special adviser to the president, came to light after he was photographed in one of the sessions between Iran and European foreign ministers.

Mr Fereydoun’s presence was also reported by Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

“He’s the president’s eyes and ears,” said Ali Vaez, an Istanbul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Thirteen days into negotiations between world powers and Iran, and significant gaps remain over the Persian Gulf nation’s uranium-enrichment capacity.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from France, Germany and the UK arrived in Vienna on Sunday.

Mr Kerry is meeting the Iranian delegation again on Monday morning after talks that lasted nearly two hours the previous night, said Marie Harf, deputy State Department spokeswoman.

“This is perhaps the last chance in a long time to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme in a peaceful manner,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting with diplomats on Sunday. “There is little time remaining. The ball is in Iran’s court.”

The presence of Mr Fereydoun, who had previously served as a diplomat at Iran’s United Nations mission in New York, may signal a greater desire by Iran to reach a deal.

In a photograph of the meeting, posted by European Union spokesman Michael Mann on Twitter, Mr Fereydoun is sitting next to Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

He does not share the same family name as Hassan Rouhani, who changed his appellation after he became a cleric.

Iran and world powers are divided over the extent of the country’s enrichment programme. The US and its allies seek a cut in Iran’s current capacity and curbs on future production.

Comments last week by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, complicated this round of talks, according to another US official.

Iran’s highest authority said the country would eventually need up to 190,000 first-generation centrifuges or 7,000 advanced machines. About 19,000 first-generation units are currently installed, with about 9,000 in operation.

Iran’s conservative Kayhan newspaper has warned Mr Zarif not to back down from the 190,000 level. It is “the official redline of the establishment at one of the most essential junctures of the negotiations”, said the paper’s editor-in-chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, who was appointed by Khamenei.

An interim accord that capped some Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief expires on July 20. Iran has said it would resume some of its suspended nuclear activities if a deal cannot be reached.

The US Congress has threatened to impose harsher sanctions.

“We are trying to find solutions to narrow the differences,” Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi told state-run ISNA news agency in Vienna. “Given this context, it’s possible that negotiations will be extended by a few days or weeks.”

While diplomats in Vienna tried to focus on the Iran nuclear talks, widening tension in the Middle East inevitably crept into the agenda.

UK foreign secretary William Hague and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius called for a ceasefire in fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 100 civilians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Mr Kerry by phone during which the Secretary of State offered to help facilitate a ceasefire, according to a US official.

* Bloomberg

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