Iran says 90% of 'technical issues' solved in nuclear talks
Uncertainty reigned at crunch US-Iran nuclear talks Tuesday as US officials warned that key differences remained but Tehran said that almost all technical issues were resolved ahead of a March 31 deadline for the outlines of a deal.
"We have agreed on 90% of the technical issues," Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by state television as saying from the marathon negotiations inside a plush hotel in the Swiss lakeside city of Lausanne.
"In most of the issues we have come to mutual agreements -- we have differences only in one major issue which we will try to solve in this evening's meeting" between Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry, Salehi said.
The deal being sought by Kerry, Zarif and other negotiators including Salehi and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will, they hope, convince the world that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme.
The accord, due to be finalised by July, would involve Iran, which denies wanting the bomb, agreeing to scale down its nuclear activities to within strict limits in return for relief from sanctions suffocating its economy.
If they manage it and the accord holds, both sides hope it will end a 12-year standoff and potentially help normalise Iran's international relations at a particularly volatile time in the Middle East.
But it is highly complex, with both sides haggling over the adjustments to Iran's facilities needed to extend the "breakout" time to at least a year that Tehran would -- in theory -- need to process a bomb's worth of nuclear material.
At the same time both sides need to agree a timetable of relief from the spider's web of UN, US and EU sanctions imposed in recent years, tied to certain "milestones" and staggered over whatever duration the accord will have.
- 'Ways to go' -
As a result US negotiators in the marathon talks were more downbeat, with one senior administration official -- involved in the technical side of the negotiations -- saying Tuesday there was still "a ways to go".
The official said on condition of anonymity that, specifically concerning technical dimensions, "even in this space we still have some tough issues to address."
A second US official said Monday that "this is a Rubik's Cube or a puzzle ... and until all the pieces click into place, you don't have the whole picture, since this is all interlocking elements that affect each other."
Zarif and Kerry held almost five hours of talks on Monday before Zarif went to and from Brussels -- while Kerry went for a bike ride -- to meet European foreign ministers and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Zarif and Kerry were met again on Tuesday. Political directors from the other five powers involved -- Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- began arriving in Lausanne on Tuesday and were due to meet on Wednesday, the EU said.
- Critics -
Critics in the United States and in Iran's arch foe Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, fear that the mooted restrictions on Iran's nuclear programme won't go far enough.
In Washington 47 Republican senators last week wrote an open letter to Iran's leaders telling them that Congress could alter any deal and that a future president could tear it up.
US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is also fighting to stop the Republicans bringing new legislation that would force him to submit any deal to Congress for approval.
In Iran though, parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said Monday that lawmakers would not block any deal as long as it is approved by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"We don't have problems like those in the United States," Larijani said.
Two deadlines to get a deal in July and November were missed but the Obama administration can hardly afford to extend yet again.
What might emerge in Lausanne by the end of the month -- or possibly this week -- is unclear, but a "concrete understanding" is crucial, expert Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group told AFP.
"If there is an agreement (this month) I don't see how it can be meaningful without some quantitive measures," the first US official said.
© 2015 AFP