US Secretary of State John Kerry said “substantial progress” has been made toward ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program will not lead to weapons development, but important gaps still stand in the way of an agreement.
Speaking after a week of nuclear talks with Iran, Kerry said Saturday that the US wasn’t rushing for an agreement even as a March 31 deadline looms for a framework agreement.
He said fundamental decisions needed to be made and stressed that world powers and Iran have an opportunity right now for a diplomatic solution.
Kerry was departing later Saturday for London to meet with European allies, before returning to Washington.
The US secretary of state also said world powers were “united” in their nuclear talks with Iran, amid speculation of splits with France.
“I emphasize: We are united in our goal, our approach, our resolve and our determination to ensure that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful,” Kerry said in Switzerland before leaving for London for talks with his German, French and British counterparts.
France indicated Saturday that it would push for an agreement with Iran that guarantees Tehran cannot build a nuclear bomb in the future, and that it opposed a phased easing of sanctions before an accord is reached.
“France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb,” French FM Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio on Saturday.
France has taken a tougher line on an Iran deal almost from the beginning, insisting on significant concessions from Tehran in the framework of an agreement.
In the recent round of talks in Switzerland this weekend, cut short Friday because of the death of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s mother, Fabius reportedly called the French delegation to make sure no more concessions were made, according to Reuters.
French diplomats have been pressing their counterparts not to give in on key elements, such as the easing of sanctions before serious progress is made, and arguing that the upcoming deadline was an “artificial” date, the Wall Street Journal reported. The P5+1, France argues, should be willing to press Tehran for a better deal and wait, if necessary.
Meanwhile, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said differences remain but that all issues can be resolved in talks with the West to secure a long-sought deal on his country’s disputed nuclear program.
“I believe an agreement is possible. There is nothing that cannot be resolved and the other party must make its final decision for this,” the official IRNA news agency quoted the Iranian leader as saying.
Rouhani’s comments came a day after the latest round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany — ended without a breakthrough.
The marathon talks are aimed at putting an Iranian nuclear bomb out of reach in exchange for easing sanctions on its economy.
“In this round of negotiations (in Lausanne, Switzerland) there were differences on some issues,” Rouhani said, noting that “common views emerged that can be the basis of a final agreement.”
However he added: “Some points of disagreement persist.”
The negotiations are to resume on Wednesday, leaving the two sides with just one week to meet the March 31 deadline for agreeing on the outlines of a nuclear deal they hope will end a 12-year deadlock.