'More work needed' as Iran nuclear talks extended
High-stakes talks aimed at stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb hung in the balance Wednesday, as Britain said there was a "broad framework of understanding" but more work was needed.
After missing a midnight deadline to agree the contours of what negotiators hope will be a historic deal, the marathon talks had broken for a few hours in the night after getting "stuck on several important issues," a German diplomat said.
As global powers resumed the talks in Switzerland on a seventh unscheduled day, China called on all sides to give ground.
"We have made significant progress over the last few days, but it has been slow going," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.
He said he was crossing his fingers that the outlines of the framework deal to put a nuclear bomb beyond Iran's reach could be sealed in the coming hours.
"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," Hammond told British journalists.
The German diplomat said "technical experts worked all night. Now a stocktaking is taking place among ministers," adding that progress was "noticeable."
Russia and Iran claimed in the early hours of Wednesday that a breakthrough had been made.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian media that global powers had reached "an agreement in principle on all key aspects of the final settlement".
But Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a four-point written statement to journalists saying "all parties must be prepared to meet each other halfway in order to reach an agreement".
Global powers are grappling for a framework deal -- with the complex technical details for a comprehensive accord to be finalised by June 30 -- which will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
The stakes are high, with fears that failure may set the United States and Israel on a road to military action to thwart Iran's nuclear drive.
The White House warned again Tuesday that the military option to deprive the Islamic republic of nuclear arms remained open.
If Iran is unwilling to reassure the world that its nuclear programme is peaceful "then we'll have to walk away from the negotiating table and consider what other options may be available to us," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
He stressed the military option remained on the table.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he also hoped to start putting down the outlines of the framework Wednesday.
"The solutions are very clear," he told Iranian television, saying he hoped to begin drawing up the final accord.
Lavrov followed his French and Chinese counterparts in leaving the lakeside town of Lausanne, though France's Laurent Fabius said he could return if needed.
- Obama briefed -
US Secretary of State John Kerry briefed President Barack Obama, and his national security team on Tuesday's negotiations by secure video conference.
Under the final accord, the powers want Iran to scale back its nuclear programme to give the world ample notice of any dash to make the bomb.
In return, the Islamic republic is demanding the lifting of crippling sanctions.
But the question is how much detail will be in the framework under negotiation between Iran and the six powers -- the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.
If it falls short of firm commitments by Iran, Obama will find it hard to fend off attempts by his Republican opponents to pass fresh sanctions on Tehran.
Iran's negotiators are also under pressure from domestic hardliners not to give too much away and for President Hassan Rouhani to deliver on his promises to win the lifting of sanctions.
US Republicans fear that since some of its nuclear infrastructure will likely stay intact, Iran will still be able to get the bomb -- a concern shared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that the deal being forged in Lausanne "paves the way" to ensuring Iran gets nuclear weapons.
Some areas of the mooted deal, including the future size of Iran's uranium enrichment capacity, appear to have been tentatively sewn up.
But the two sides still appear to be discussing other areas, including sanctions relief, what to do with Iran's stockpiles of nuclear material, and how long the deal should last.
© 2015 AFP