Negotiators Intensify Efforts to Secure Deal

Negotiators Intensify Efforts to Secure DealNegotiators Intensify Efforts to Secure Deal

Efforts to work out the basis framework of a comprehensive deal on Tehran's nuclear program by the end of the month were stepped up on Tuesday as Iran and the United States resumed discussions.

The US and Iranian delegations led by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif began another round of talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne after the Iranians returned overnight from Brussels where they met European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the European members of the P5+1 (the five permamant members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).

Senior European officials were expected in Lausanne later on Tuesday, with foreign ministers possibly joining them at the end of the week if talks advance.  A western diplomat said "we're still not there yet" on reaching an end-March deadline for a framework agreement between Iran and the six major powers (the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany), Reuters reported.  

"We'll see what happens the rest of the week but for now we're not there," a senior western diplomat said. "The Americans had the same feeling in Lausanne."

A senior US official, speaking after several hours of talks on Monday, said Iran had "tough" choices to make. "We are trying to get there but quite frankly we still do not know if we will be able to," the official told reporters on Monday. "Iran still has to make some very tough and necessary choices to address the significant concerns that remain about its nuclear program."

The US official said the sides would work through the end of the month if needed to secure a deal.

  Lining Up Technical Options

Reuters also quoted a US official as saying on Tuesday that Iran and the major powers have made progress in identifying technical options that could form the basis of a long-term nuclear deal but there remain difficult issues that must be addressed.

"We have definitely made progress in terms of identifying technical options for each of the major areas," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "There is no way around it. We still have a ways to go ... But even within this space, we have some tough issues to address."

He added that any framework agreement would need to have key details, including numbers. "If there is an agreement, I don't see how it could be meaningful without having some quantitative dimensions," he said without elaborating.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels late on Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said progress had been made but "important points" were unresolved. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said a deal could not be struck "at any price".

With the Iranian new year holiday of Noruz approaching this weekend, officials close to the talks say it will be difficult to complete a political agreement this week. If it is not possible by the weekend, the talks could reconvene in the final days of March. Zarif said on Monday 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 IRNA.

The major powers are trying to reach a political framework agreement with Iran by the end of the month. The parties have set a June 30 deadline to finalize all the technical details of an accord. Western officials say privately that overcoming disagreements on some of the remaining sticking points would be very difficult.

Sticking points include the level of Iran's enrichment activities and how sanctions would be lifted. A senior Iranian official told Reuters he was doubtful whether a deal would be reached this week as there were gaps on some important issues, although the atmosphere at the talks was good.

Mogherini told reporters in Brussels the talks had been helpful. A European diplomatic source, however, said substantial gaps remained and it was not clear they could be resolved in the coming days. "The talks were lengthy and in-depth, but they did not enable us to narrow our differences," the source said after Zarif met his French, German and British counterparts.

Some western countries claim Iran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies that and says its program is solely for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.