Tuesday 28 February 2017

Talks resume over Iran's unclear programme hours after deadline abandoned

Russian journalists play a game of giant chess in a courtyard of the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)
Russian journalists play a game of giant chess in a courtyard of the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

Talks have resumed over Iran's nuclear programme hours after negotiators abandoned yesterday's deadline to reach the outline of a deal.

However, as the discussions dragged on, three of the six foreign ministers involved left the talks and prospects for agreement remained uncertain.

US secretary of state John Kerry claimed enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering, and huddled with his British and German counterparts in the Swiss town of Lausanne to continue a marathon effort to hammer out details of a framework accord.

The foreign ministers of China, France and Russia left Lausanne overnight, although the significance of their absence, particularly when the broader group meets Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, is not clear.

After the talks broke last night, Mr Zarif said solutions to many of the problems had been found and documents attesting to that would soon be drafted. Other officials were more sceptical.

Asked how high the chances of success were, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "I cannot say."

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Tehran might still not be ready to accept what is on the table.

"I'm optimistic that we will make further progress this morning but it does mean the Iranians being willing to meet us where there are still issues to deal with," Mr Hammond told British reporters. "Fingers crossed and we'll hope to get there during the course of the day."

Although the Chinese, French and Russian ministers left their deputies in charge, Mr Kerry postponed his planned departure to stay in Lausanne, and an Iranian negotiator said his team would stay "as long as necessary" to clear the remaining hurdles.

Officials say their intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, and their intention to begin a new phase of negotiations to get to that point.

In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.

The additional documents would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in November 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran's, have said they are not interested in a third extension.

Meanwhile Israel's prime minister said the international community must insist on a "better deal" with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Benjamin Netanyahu said today that while world powers are making concessions to the Islamic Republic it continues to wreak havoc in the Middle East and threaten Israel with annihilation.

He says a weak deal will endanger not only Israel but world peace.

He says a better deal would "significantly roll back Iran's nuclear infrastructure" and link a lifting of restrictions to "a change in Iran's behaviour".

Press Association

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