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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran Nuclear Talks' Progress Unclear

by VOA News March 20, 2015

Nearly a week of talks on curbing Iran's nuclear program has ended with mixed reports from the Swiss city of Lausanne, where some officials privately report progress between the Islamic Republic and six world powers. But others see a gap.

Negotiations that resumed Tuesday were suspended Friday when the Iranian delegation left Switzerland following the death of President Hassan Rouhani's 90-year-old mother.

Further talks have been delayed until Wednesday, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

Secretary of State John Kerry offered 'deepest condolences' to Rouhani's family and country, and also wished the people of Iran a good Persian new year, or Nowruz.

'Nowruz is the beginning of Spring, and in Farsi, it means 'new day,'' said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, appearing with Kerry in Lausanne.

'I hope this new day will be a new day for the entire world – a new era of greater understanding and peace,' said Zarif, echoing Kerry's hope that the year will bring 'progress and peace.'

Iranian and international negotiators are working under a March 31 deadline to reach a framework agreement limiting Iran's nuclear program. In exchange for restrictions, the deal would lift international sanctions against Tehran.

Details of the agreement are due to be finalized by July.

Messages of hope

In a written message marking the holiday, Kerry praised the opportunity the represented by negotiations between Iran and the six world powers: the United States, plus China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

'It is my sincere hope that if Iran's leaders make the right choices – the necessary choices – in the ongoing nuclear talks … this new year and this new spring will mark a better future both for the Iranian people and for the world,' he said.

In his own Nowruz message to Iranians, U.S. President Barack Obama said this year represents the 'best opportunity in decades' to pursue a different relationship between the two countries.

'This moment may not come again soon," he said in a White House video. "I believe that our nations have an historic opportunity to resolve this issue peacefully – an opportunity we should not miss."

Obama said Iran's leaders have the choice to agree to a 'reasonable' nuclear deal, which he said would end Iran's international isolation and provide 'greater opportunities for the Iranian people.'

If a deal is not reached, the president said Iran will continue on 'a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve.'

'Engage with dignity'

Foreign Minister Zarif said Friday via Twitter that 'Iranians have already made their choice: Engage with dignity. It's high time for the U.S. and its allies to choose: pressure or agreement.'

Iran claims its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as providing energy, but many countries fear it is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

After talks on Friday in Brussels with European Union leaders involved in the negotiations, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said there were no differences between the Americans and the Europeans on the way forward.

'There is unity [in] the fact that we want a deal. We want a good deal ... that makes it impossible for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,' Mogherini said. 'This would be beneficial for Iran, for sure, for the security of the region, for nonproliferation, so for the security of the world.'

Negotiators have made progress, 'but gaps remain,' Obama said. He added that some people in the United States, Iran 'and beyond … oppose a diplomatic resolution.'

U.S. officials are downplaying a report suggesting Washington and Tehran are drafting elements of a nuclear deal that commits Iran to a 40 percent cut in the number of machines it could use to make an atomic bomb.

The Associated Press report, which quoted unnamed officials, said that in return, Iran would get quick relief from some crippling economic sanctions and a partial lifting of a U.N. embargo on conventional arms.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday dismissed such reports as 'inaccurate,' and insisted no draft document is being circulated.

'The fundamental framework issues are still under comprehensive discussion,' she said, saying that's what Kerry 'is focused on now.'

Lisa Bryant contributed to this report from Paris.

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