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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iran Talks Continue Past Deadline

by Al Pessin April 01, 2015

Negotiators from Iran and a group of six world powers worked Wednesday to close the remaining gaps in their long-sought effort to reach a framework agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The two sides missed their self-imposed midnight Tuesday deadline, but agreed to keep talking in a process that resumed Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland, with meetings between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his counterparts from the United States, Britain and Germany.

Senior representatives from France, Russia and China are also taking part - their foreign ministers left the talks earlier.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told Iranian state television that his delegation insists on having an outline in place for lifting all of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations and Western countries before it agrees to a deal. Other sticking points included stipulations about research and development.

Russian state media quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying late Tuesday the two sides had agreed in principle on the 'key elements' of a deal, which would include measures to ensure Iran's nuclear program is peaceful in return for lifting economic sanctions.

Earlier Wednesday, China urged both sides to consider compromises.

'All parties must be prepared to meet each other halfway in order to reach an agreement,' a Chinese statement said.

Progress made

Senior officials on all sides reported progress late Tuesday, justifying their decision to keep talking past the midnight deadline. But the elusive agreement on key points had not been achieved when the sun rose over the Swiss Alps Wednesday morning.

The goal is to agree on key elements of an accord and then give technical experts three months to draft a detailed agreement, potentially ending more than a decade of dispute over Iran's nuclear program. The accord is supposed to verifiably guarantee the program is purely peaceful, as Iran claims, and gradually lift a complex web of international economic sanctions.

It appeared to be the sanctions that were the final sticking point, with negotiators unable to come up with a sequence that satisfied Iran's desire for fast relief and the international negotiators' desire to ensure Iran could not evade its commitments after sanctions end.

Iran has still not met United Nations Security Council demands for a full accounting of its past secret nuclear weapons program.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the group of world powers needs to insist on a 'better deal' with Iran, and that they are making concessions that would endanger Israel and world peace.

Many in the international community worry that Iran could do the same thing again once it is clear of the sanctions, particularly after this agreement expires, expected in 10 to 15 years.

But experts say the emerging accord would provide for extensive inspections that would ensure that does not happen over the long term.

"I think it's important to acknowledge that some of the monitoring and verification in an agreement will be permanent," said Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

Monitoring, verification program

Davenport noted that as part of the deal, Iran is expected to ratify what is called the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"That will give the international community far greater access to Iran's nuclear facilities, and also access to undeclared sites. It will also give inspectors much more latitude to investigate areas if they think that illicit nuclear activities have taken place there. Any deviations would be very quickly detected," Davenport said.

At Georgetown University, Ariane Tabatabai agrees that critics of the negotiations do not give enough credence to the International Atomic Energy Association's monitoring and verification program, even though Iran has cooperated with it since the preliminary accord was reached a year and a half ago.

"I think that is perhaps the least talked about and the most important part of a deal. For the most part, people who talk about the Iran talks don't necessarily know much about the monitoring system. People don't necessarily know what the IAEA is doing. It's not something you can grasp as easily," said Tabatabai.

One thing critics can grasp is that the deadline for agreement on the main points has already been missed by at least one day, and they will be looking at whatever comes out of these talks to try to figure out who made the final concessions.

Skeptics, particularly in Iran and in the U.S. Congress, are expected to use whatever is announced here to try to scuttle the process before it is finished in June. But supporters of the talks warn that the alternative is a return to confrontation, and possibly the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

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