Sides call latest Iran nuclear talks ‘substantive’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The latest talks on Iran’s nuclear capacity were substantive, both sides said, although gaps remain on some issues, including uranium enrichment.

The world powers and Iran “dove more deeply and at more detailed level into the substance of key issues more than we have ever previously,” a senior Obama administration official said Wednesday after the latest round of talks between Iran and the major powers in Vienna.

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“If the last round set the agenda and framework for the comprehensive negotiations, in this round we were able to build on the great work our experts have been doing and really get down to business and into the details,” said the official, whose name was not disclosed in the transcript of the news conference distributed by the State Department.

The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and the top European Union foreign affairs official, Catherine Ashton, sounded a similar note in their joint news conference after the talks had concluded, with Zarif calling the talks, “substantive, serious and useful,” according to IRNA, the Iranian press agency.

The senior U.S. official said the talks covered uranium enrichment, the plutonium-powered reactor at Arak, international sanctions on Iran and civilian nuclear cooperation.

Gaps remained in some of these areas, the official said, particularly in the area of uranium enrichment.

“So on enrichment, we understand what Iran hopes for. Iran knows what we hope for,” the  U.S. official said.

“And needless to say, which will come as no surprise, it’s a gap that’s going to take some hard work to get to a place where we can find agreement,” the official said. “But I think what we have come to understand from the discussions we had, which were quite extensive, and enrichment, of course, has many branches to it, many things from facilities to stockpiles to research and development to monitoring and transparency.”

Israel and some Republicans in Congress are demanding zero enrichment as an outcome of the talks; Iran currently enriches to 20 percent.

Obama administration officials have suggested that 5 percent, a level of enrichment suitable for civilian use, is the likely outcome, although Israel says that leaves Iran perilously close to weaponization.

The talks resume on April 7 in Vienna.

Separately on Thursday, the U.S. Treasury department authorized undergraduate and graduate exchanges between Iranian and U.S. students and scholars, including the provision of scholarships.

The Obama administration has lifted a limited number of sanctions and bans on Iran as part of the nuclear talks.

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