A key European Union diplomatic coordinator suggested that envoys might need more than half a year to reach a final nuclear deal with Iran.
The figure, E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, discussed the possibility of a drawn-out diplomatic process in an interview on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Her remarks came as some Iranian and Western government insiders expressed hope that negotiators would resolve years-old concerns over Iran's atomic activities within the six-month duration of an interim accord that took effect on Jan. 20. Experts have said complications could arise from extending the initial pact, in which Tehran agreed to restrict some of its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief pledged by the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.
"Everyone will say to you, and rightly so, this is extremely difficult," said Ashton, who has communicated with Tehran on behalf of the "P-5+1" nations. "We have no guarantees in this and we will take the time that is necessary to get this to be the right agreement."
Multilateral discussions on a comprehensive arrangement are scheduled to start on Feb. 18 in Vienna, Reuters quoted her as saying on Friday. Washington and its allies want a final plan to clear up international suspicions that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons capability under the guise of a peaceful atomic program.
A number of Western government sources anonymously voiced skepticism that the sides could finalize such a deal by the middle of 2014, the Journal reported. According to some envoys, preparing a preliminary text as a foundation for the talks could be a months-long process in itself.
Iran's top diplomat issued differing assessments of the possible duration of the discussions.
Speaking on Monday to the German Council on Foreign Relations, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that "with good will we can reach an agreement within six [months]," Reuters reported.
On Sunday, though, Zarif said "it would be foolish for us to only bargain for six months," according to the news agency.
The Iranian foreign minister said he held one-on-one meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials from the six negotiating powers at the Munich Security Conference this past weekend.
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