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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran Nuclear Negotiations in 'Crunch Time' as Deadline Nears

by VOA News March 16, 2015

Iran nuclear negotiations are in 'crunch time' as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met again Monday in Switzerland in the long-running negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program.

The meeting between Kerry and Zarif included U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who also met on Sunday to negotiate technical details of Iran's nuclear program.

After meeting for with Kerry for about four hours, the Iranian delegation headed to Brussels for meetings with European ministers.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the negotiations are 'in crunch time.' Speaking to CNN from Washington, she added, "The next couple of days leading up to this weekend will be key.'

However, with the Iranian new year holiday of Norouz approaching this weekend, officials close to the talks said it will be difficult to complete a political agreement this week. If an agreement isn't reached this weekend, the talks could reconvene in the last week of March.

'Closer to a solution'

Zarif said all sides needed to keep talking this week to see what could be achieved.

"On some issues we are closer to a solution and based on this we can say solutions are within reach. At the same time, we are apart on some issues," he told the Iranian news agency IRNA on Monday.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday there were obstacles to overcome with Tehran to reach a deal but hoped to make progress at meetings with her Iranian and European counterparts on Monday evening in Brussels.

She declined to give details but said that all issues were being discussed and that all issues were linked.

Six world powers -- the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China -- are trying to reach a framework agreement with Iran by the end of the month that would curb Tehran's most sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for the gradual easing of some sanctions.

The parties have set a June 30 deadline to finalize an accord.

Kerry said Sunday that the remaining obstacles are largely political rather than technical.

'There are clearly some differences that still rest on a technical judgment,' Kerry told CBS television's Face the Nation program. 'But by and large, most of the differences now are political decisions... to fulfill the promise of proving to the world that a program is peaceful.'

Republican criticism

Meanwhile, U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement against the talks, telling CNN that President Barack Obama was on the cusp of a 'very bad deal' with Tehran.

Kerry said he is unsure if an open letter sent by McConnell and 46 other Republican U.S. senators last week to Iranian leaders had jeopardized the future of the ongoing negotiations. The group warned the next U.S. president could revoke a deal at any time; a statement the secretary of state challenged.

Iran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful, civilian purposes such as medical research and generating power.

Also Monday, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the negotiations to end the 12-year standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions still had some way to go before Western powers reach a deal with Tehran.

"We are closer than we were but we've still got a long way to go," Hammond told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with his EU peers. "There are areas where we've made progress, areas where we have yet to make any progress."

Hammond, along with Germany, France and the European Union, will meet Iran's foreign minister later on Monday in Brussels.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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