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Timetable, framework crafted for Iran nuclear talks

VIENNA — In what officials described as a serious, workmanlike, and conversational atmosphere, Iran and six world powers have agreed on a timetable and framework for negotiating a comprehensive agreement to end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s foreign minister said Thursday.

While details were vague and the two delegation leaders declined to take any questions at a closing news conference, they said that groups of specialists would meet early in March and the full delegations would meet here again on March 17, with the expectation that they will meet monthly.

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Catherine Ashton, the EU official, said in brief remarks: “We had three very productive days during which we have identified all the issues we need to address to reach a comprehensive and final agreement. There is a lot to do, it won’t be easy, but we have made a good start.”

Officials refused to describe the topics for the meetings, but a senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under the session’s ground rules, said, “Every issue of concern to us is on the table,” including uranium enrichment, Iran’s heavy-water reactor project, and its suspected nuclear military research and ballistic missile program. All these issues, the official said, including clarifying the issue of Iran’s past military research, are at least mentioned in a joint plan of action agreed upon with Iran in November in Geneva.

“All our concerns must be met to get an agreement,” said the US official, defining Washington’s goals as ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and that world powers can be confident that Iran’s nuclear program has no military aspect or intent, as Iran maintains.

The care that officials on all sides took not to say anything very specific was striking, as was the positive atmosphere they described in the meetings, which were said by one official to have no element of political rhetoric or posturing, even over “areas of difficulty.” It was clear that neither side wanted any note of failure in this first round of talks on a comprehensive deal, but it was also clear that most of the work here was about setting an agenda and establishing the priority of the issues at stake, without entering into a substantive discussion of those issues.

Iranian officials have said publicly that only their nuclear program is on the agenda, not their larger military structure, and that they will not dismantle any part of their nuclear program or give up what they have called their right to modernize it. US officials have emphasized that large parts of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will have to be dismantled, as opposed to simply disabled, as part of a final deal.

A temporary six-month deal to essentially freeze Iran’s program in return for modest relief from sanctions and the release of some frozen assets expires on July 20.

The officials said they had planned meetings throughout the next four months, but wanted to leave the last month free, because negotiations tend to accelerate and intensify closer to deadlines.

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