Mixed messages from Iran talks as high-level meeting adjourned

US says not all issues resolved; Lavrov, Zarif claim breakthrough; EU says negotiations among ‘political directors’ to resume Wednesday

Participants to the Iranian nuclear talks meet at the Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 30, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)
Participants to the Iranian nuclear talks meet at the Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 30, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

Mixed messages on the Iranian nuclear negotiations were emerging from Lausanne, Switzerland Wednesday, where talks between high-ranking international and Iranian diplomats — working through a midnight deadline to reach a political framework for a deal — were adjourned.

Russia and Iran’s foreign ministers claimed in the early hours of Wednesday a breakthrough in talks, but the US said not all issues had been agreed upon.

“One can say with relative certainty that we at the minister level have reached an agreement in principle on all key aspects of the final settlement of this issue,” Russian media quoted Sergey Lavrov as saying at talks in Switzerland.

This came after Russia’s top diplomat and the foreign ministers of five other major powers and Iran missed a midnight (2200 GMT) deadline to agree the main outlines of what they hope will be an historic accord but continued working through the night.

The powers hope this final agreement, due to be finalized by June 30, will see Iran scale down its nuclear program in order to prevent Tehran developing nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian program.

The stakes are high, with fears that failure to reach a deal may set the United States and Israel on a road to military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, which Tehran says is purely peaceful.

The “agreement in principle… will be put on paper in the coming hours or perhaps within one day,” Lavrov said, quoted by Ria Novosti after a lengthy day of talks in Lausanne.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he hoped to complete later on Wednesday the framework nuclear agreement, allowing the process of drafting a final accord by the June 30 deadline to begin.

“We have accomplished quite a bit but people needed to get some rest and start over early in the morning. I hope that we can finalize the work on Wednesday and hopefully start the process of drafting (a final accord)”, Zarif told reporters.

A senior US official however said there was not yet full agreement on key points of the framework accord.

“All issues have not been agreed,” a senior US official told AFP.

US President Barack Obama was said to have conferred with key national security advisers Tuesday about the talks.

“Tonight, the president convened a secure video teleconference with members of his national security team,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

Earlier, the White House warned that the US would “walk away” from the negotiations before the final deadline of June 30 if no political framework was reached.

“If we’re not able to reach a political agreement, then we’re not going to wait … until June 30 to walk away,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday.

A Western diplomat said there was no framework agreement yet while a spokeswoman for the European Union, which is chairing the talks, said only that the ministerial meeting was over.

“Talks still ongoing with political directors to reconvene early (Wednesday),” Catherine Ray, the spokeswoman, said on Twitter.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius meanwhile followed his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in leaving the negotiations, with Fabius’s office saying he would return “as soon as it is useful”.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Lausanne last Wednesday, remained however together with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

After more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to limit Tehran’s nuclear advances, the present talks already had been extended twice, demonstrating the difficulties of reaching an agreement that meets the demands of both sides.

Obama and other leaders have indicated they were not interested in a third extension.

The US and its negotiating partners demand curbs on Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons, and they say any agreement must extend the time Tehran would need to produce a weapon from the present several months to at least a year. The Iranians deny such military intentions, but they are negotiating with the aim that a deal will end sanctions on their economy.

Obstacles remain on several main issues — uranium enrichment, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development and the timing and scope of sanctions, among other issues, according to negotiators.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his severe criticism of the unfolding deal, saying it would leave intact much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including underground research facilities, a plutonium reactor and advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium.

The US says any final deal will accomplish a goal of stretching the time Iran would need to make a nuclear weapon from several months to a year. But Netanyahu said Washington initially promised “years” to a breakout time.

AP contributed to this report.

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