Iran and and six world powers have agreed on the outlines of an understanding that would open the path to a final phase of nuclear negotiations but are in a dispute over how much to make public, officials told The Associated Press Thursday.
The officials spoke outside week-long talks that have busted through a March 31 deadline in an effort to formulate a general statement of what has been accomplished and documents setting down what the sides need to do by the end of June deadline for a deal.
Reports in Iranian media following the announcement said Iran would slash its active centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,000, and that the full deal would last for 10 years.
Swiss officials facilitating the negotiations set a news conference for later in the day that was expected to announce the results of the talks.
There was no time given for the presser, though European Union negotiators said journalists should make their way to a university conference center in Lausanne “as soon as possible.”
In the search for a comprehensive deal, the US and five other countries hope to curb Iran’s nuclear technologies that it could use to make weapons. Tehran denies such ambitions but is negotiating because it wants a lifting of sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.
Pressured by congressional critics in the US who threaten to impose new sanctions on Iran over what they say is a bad emerging deal, the Obama administration is demanding significant public disclosure of agreements and understandings reached at the current round. But the officials say Iran wants a minimum made public.
Iranian leaders are opposed to two agreements, saying previous two-stage negotiations were detrimental to their interests. They results reached in the Swiss city of Lausanne as less than a deal and more of an informal understanding.
The officials demanded anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly.
They spoke after senior diplomats from the six countries negotiating with Iran huddled overnight in strategy sessions meant to advance the pace of agonizingly slow nuclear talks. Iran’s foreign minister said the sides were close to a preliminary agreement, but not yet there.
The talks resumed several hours after a flurry of marathon overnight sessions between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as other meetings among the six powers. Iran also wants to get rid of the sanctions, which have had stifling effect on its economy.
Officials with the six world powers also are trying to fashion more detailed documents on the steps they must take by June 30 to meet a host of goals.
As he headed to his own meeting Thursday, Zarif said the talks had made “significant progress.” But he said drafts still had to be written. Reaching both agreement in Lausanne as well as a June final deal will be “a difficult job,” he said.
One problem, said Zarif, was differing voices among the other side at the table — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — making it difficult for them “to reach a coordination.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who left Lausanne Tuesday, said the two sides were close, the Interfax news agency reported. There are “only a few steps left to take or, in some cases, even-half steps, and some things have already been agreed upon,” he said.
But as the talks dragged on, one Western official said at one point early Thursday that they were “at a tough moment and the path forward is really unclear,” adding that the idea of breaking them off over Passover and Easter and resuming them next week had been informally raised. That was confirmed by another official. Neither was authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, and both demanded anonymity to speak.
The talks — the latest in more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear prowess — hit the weeklong mark on Thursday, shortly before the State Department announced they would go into double overtime from the March 31 deadline.
As the sides bore down on efforts to get a deal, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier canceled a planned visit to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was also back, less than a day after leaving the city.
The West demands that the Lausanne talks wind up with concrete commitments. But Iran has pushed back, demanding a general statement with few specifics. That is politically unpalatable for the Obama administration, which must convince a hostile Congress that it has made progress in the talks so lawmakers do not enact new sanctions that could destroy the negotiations.
By blowing through self-imposed deadlines, Obama risks further antagonizing lawmakers in both parties who are poised to take their own action to upend a deal if they determine the president has been too conciliatory.
The initial response to the extensions from Republicans suggested they had already come to that conclusion. “It is clear, the negotiations are not going well,” Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement. “At every step, the Iranians appear intent on retaining the capacity to achieve a nuclear weapon.”