Brendan Smialowski / AP

Timing of sanctions relief a major issue as Iran talks resume

After agreeing to a framework this month, Iran and six world powers are trying to finalize a nuclear accord by July

The timing and scope of sanctions relief are major sticking points in talks between Iran and the six major world powers kicking off in Vienna on Wednesday as negotiators try to agree on curbing Tehran's nuclear activities.

After deliberations in Switzerland on April 2 between Iran and the six powers produced a mutual understanding on a framework to conclude a nuclear deal by June 30, different interpretations have emerged over what was agreed and both sides have given different versions of the timing underpinning a final deal.

"Lifting sanctions will be one of the main topics in this round of talks … If the other party shows political good will, we can reach a final agreement," Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state TV on Wednesday.

Talks on Wednesday began with European Union political director Helga Schmid and Araqchi. Negotiations between Iran and the six powers, including U.S. under secretary Wendy Sherman, will follow later in the week.

Iran insists it would only accept a final deal over its contested nuclear program if world powers simultaneously lifted all sanctions imposed on it.

The United States has made it clear that sanctions on Iran would have to be phased out gradually under the final pact.

Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on Iranian state television on Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, "discussed Iran's nuclear issue by phone last night.”

Iran and the powers, which in addition to the U.S. include China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany, are trying to end more than 12 years of diplomatic wrangling over the country's disputed nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful but many Western countries fear could be used to develop an atomic bomb.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama signaled his intent to sign pending legislation that would give Congress a more direct say in any future accord. The administration had been reluctant to involve legislators before the terms of a final deal came together, but enough members of his own party sought to ensure before hand that legislators would be heard.

The removal of all U.S. sanctions on Iran requires Congressional support at some point, so the role of legislators was always going to be necessary in the long run. But the desire of some members of Congress to challenge Obama’s diplomatic efforts ahead of a final deal could complicate efforts to reach the finish line.

Araqchi said on state television on Wednesday that the U.S. administration was "responsible to ensure that its commitments, particularly sanctions-related ones, are fulfilled.”

Many other issues have to be hammered out before the end-of-June deadline for the final deal to be done, including the exact technical details on the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, which the deal would leave in place, albeit with mutually agreed upon restrictions and international monitoring.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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