Iran Nuclear Talks at Critical Stage
by VOA News March 30, 2015
Negotiations on Iran's nuclear program in Switzerland entered a critical stage Monday as top diplomats from six world powers and Tehran tried to reach agreement on key details of a possible accord.
'We're working very hard,' U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said outside the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, as he returned from a lunch break. 'Obviously it has a deadline tomorrow night.'
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the United States is 'not going to predispose failure' for the negotiations, but said the talks 'are going to go down to the wire' as Tuesday's self-imposed midnight deadline set by Iran and the six countries seeking to limit its ability to build a nuclear weapon approaches.
A Western diplomat said there are three major outstanding issues, with the parties yet to agree on how long a pact should last, how quickly the U.N. and Western economic sanctions against Iran should be lifted, and how they would be reinstated if Iran violated the terms of the deal.
The diplomat also highlighted the urgency of the talks, saying it was 'yes or no' time.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Monday with his counterparts from the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany - the so-called P5+1 group.
The diplomats are trying to agree on a framework that would ensure Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons in exchange for removing the sanctions that have hurt Iran's economy.
A final version of the deal would be due by the end of June.
Meetings in Switzerland
For days Iranian officials and foreign ministers from the P5+1 group have been meeting in Lausanne to break an impasse in negotiations.
Officials said the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Russia's Sergei Lavrov and China's Wang Yi met for an hour and then broke off their discussions. They were expected to meet again later Monday.
Several European foreign ministers, including Russia's Sergei Lavrov, left the Iran nuclear talks Monday, saying they would return if a deal was at hand by the Tuesday deadline. Kerry and Zarif stayed in Lausanne.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Monday there was also no decision yet on the issue of how Iran's existing stockpile of enriched material would be disposed of, with some reports indicating Iran is willing to send the material to Russia.
The official said shipping the stockpile was one of several 'viable options' the two sides have been discussing during months of talks.
'The metric is ensuring the amount of material remaining as enriched material will only be what is necessary for a working stock and no more,' the official said.
However, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said Sunday that sending the material to another country was not an option.
Another way to leave Iran with enough material to conduct medical research and generate power, but not build a nuclear weapon, is to dilute the current stock to lower levels of enrichment.
Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern in over more than a decade of international attempts to cap Iran's nuclear programs.
Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000. The officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer.
Tehran has said it wants to enrich only for energy, science, industry and medicine. But many countries fear Iran could use the technology to make weapons-grade uranium.
But a Western official said the main obstacles to a deal were no longer enrichment-related but instead the type and length of restrictions on Tehran's research and development of advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.
Iran is also seeking an immediate end to the economic sanctions, while the international powers have said they want a phased withdrawal.
Western officials also voiced concerns that P5+1 member Russia, itself under U.S. and European Union sanctions over Ukraine, might have reservations about lifting energy sanctions over fears that bringing Iranian oil back into the market would further depress the price of oil.
Both officials demanded anonymity - the State Department official in line with U.S. briefing rules and the Western official because he was not authorized to discuss the emerging deal.
This was always expected to be the most difficult phase, with the toughest issues left to the end.
At Georgetown University's Security Studies Program, Ariane Tabatabai said that is to be expected.
"There's a lot to overcome. Thirty-six years of animosity and hostile relations are not going to be erased overnight. And then, of course, you have the challenges that any kind of negotiation faces. Both sides are trying to get more. It is normal and, yes, it is challenging, but it is what negotiations are about,' Tabatabai said.
Even if the negotiators get some sort of basic agreement Tuesday, they acknowledge they will still have a lot of work to do to settle all the complex technical details by the end of June. As important as the Tuesday deadline is to prove the negotiating process is moving both sides toward their goals, it is only what one analyst called a milestone on a much longer journey.
Al Pessin in Lausanne, Switzerland, and White House correspondent Aru Pande contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.
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