Negotiators Likely to Settle for Oral Statement

Negotiators Likely to Settle for Oral Statement Negotiators Likely to Settle for Oral Statement

Two weeks out from a deadline for a framework nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers, some officials said the awesomeness of the diplomatic task meant negotiators would likely settle for an announcement that they have made enough progress to justify further talks, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

As US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Switzerland on Sunday for several days of discussions with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, no one was promising a breakthrough. One diplomat said new differences surfaced only in the last negotiating round of what has been a 15-month process, including an Iranian demand that a nuclear facility buried deep underground be allowed to keep hundreds of centrifuges that are used for enriching uranium. Previously, the Iranians had accepted the plant would be transformed into one solely for scientific research, that diplomat and others claimed.

The deal that had been taking shape would reportedly see Iran freeze its nuclear program for at least a decade, with restrictions then gradually lifted over a period of perhaps the following five years. Washington and other world powers would similarly scale back sanctions that have negatively affected the Iranian economy in several phases.

Speaking Sunday on CBS News, Kerry said most of the differences between Iran and the major powers were "political," not technical.

Less than four months ago, senior officials talked optimistically about reaching a preliminary agreement by March, with three months of additional talks only for any remaining technical work. Back then, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he expected "an agreement on substance" by March 31. Top western and Iranian negotiators issued a joint statement vowing to use the time until June 30 only "if necessary ... to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work."

But two diplomats said ahead of this week's talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne that persistent differences at the negotiating table had diminished the chances of such a substantial agreement. Instead, they said, the sides were more likely to restrict themselves to an oral statement indicating that enough headway had been made to continue negotiations. They were not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive talks and demanded anonymity.

  Framework of Substance

A senior US official rejected that assessment. "We are working toward a framework of substance," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing similar constraints. Top diplomats and technical experts from the US and Iran met Sunday. Kerry and Zarif held their first discussion Monday morning.

Anything short of a written agreement will encourage congressional critics of the Iran diplomacy, who have seized on various pieces that have leaked from the negotiation to press their case that the Obama administration is conceding too much. Republicans and some Democrats believe a deal would be insufficient and unenforceable, allowing Iran to keep its nuclear enrichment capacity. And to that end, they have made a series of proposals to undercut or block an agreement, from requiring the US Senate say-so on a deal to ordering new sanctions against Iran while negotiations are ongoing.