Envoys of Iran and six world powers will meet next week to start working out steps to implement a deal under which Tehran is to curb its nuclear programme in return for some respite from sanctions, a top Iranian negotiator said.
The landmark Nov. 24 interim accord between the Islamic Republic and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain is seen as a first step towards resolving a decade-old dispute that has stirred fears of a new Middle East war.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted by the state-run news agency Fars as saying in a television interview that Tehran was expecting to hear from senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid soon.
"Schmid is supposed to call us this week and it's likely our experts will negotiate in the coming week in Geneva or Vienna to find a mechanism for implementation," he said.
But, underlining years of mutual distrust, Araqchi said the deal was not legally binding and Iran had the right to undo it if the powers failed to hold up their end of the bargain.
"The moment we feel that the opposite side is not meeting its obligations or its actions fall short, we will revert to our previous position and cease the process," Fars quoted Araqchi, a senior member of Iran's negotiating team, as saying. "We are in no way optimistic about the other side - we are pessimistic - and we have told them that we cannot trust you."
A senior Western diplomat described the implementation phase of the deal as "extremely complex and difficult".
Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency had said on Friday that the implementation phase was expected to start by early January, with Western diplomats saying a start to sanctions relief would hinge on verification by U.N. inspectors that Iran was fulfilling its side of the deal.
A diplomatic opening was created after the election in June of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranian president, on a pledge to end Tehran's isolation and win relief from sanctions that have battered the oil producer's economy.
The deal is designed to halt any further advances in Iran's nuclear campaign and to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement aimed at ensuring Tehran's nuclear activity is wholly peaceful in nature.
Iran rejects suspicions that it has sought covertly to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is enriching uranium solely for civilian energy purposes.