Iran talks go into top gear in battle of wills

28th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Tortuous negotiations aimed at laying to rest fears Iran will get nuclear weapons moved into top gear Saturday as both sides demanded the other give ground as a deadline loomed.

"We're at that point in the negotiations where we really need to see decisions being made," a senior US State Department official said late Friday at the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"The work is very complicated and difficult. The other side needs to choose between pressure and a political accord," countered Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

France's top diplomat Laurent Fabius, the most hawkish in the P5+1 group of countries negotiating with Iran since late 2013, will be the first European minister to fly in for the crunch talks.

He will join US Secretary of State John Kerry, Zarif and negotiators from the six powers, chasing an agreement on the broad outlines of a what they hope will be a historic deal by Tuesday.

Since a major diplomatic push to resolve the long-running crisis began in 2013, Kerry and the US-educated Zarif have met multiple times but have twice missed a deadline to nail down an accord.

The powers want Iran to shrink its nuclear programme in order to make any dash to make a bomb under the guise of its civilian atomic programme all but impossible and easily detectable.

In return Iran wants an easing of international sanctions which have excluded the Islamic republic from lucrative oil markets and crippled its economy.

On Sunday China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will reportedly fly in, as well as the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Kerry, Fabius and German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier will have a working lunch Saturday, a US official said. Britain's Philip Hammond said was on stand-by to come.

The emerging accord is to be rounded out with complex technical annexes by a June 30 deadline.

- 'No text prepared' -

But Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters on Saturday morning that "no text has been prepared".

The US State Department official, asking not to be named, agreed the negotiations "have been tough and very serious".

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also upped the pressure on Iran.

"Iran must make the decisions necessary to resolve several remaining issues," a statement said after the two leaders spoke by telephone.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called Thursday for the "unjust" sanctions choking the country's economy to be lifted as he wrote letters to the leaders of all six countries.

Rouhani also phoned the presidents of Russia, China and France and Britain's prime minister. The US official said Saturday Washington hoped this was "a sign that Iran is ready to make some of the tough decisions" needed.

But global powers insist sanctions will only be suspended, not lifted, and in a phased manner in case Iran violates the deal.

The UN has imposed several rounds of sanctions since 2006 aimed at stopping Iran from expanding its nuclear and missile programmes while EU and US sanctions since 2010 have targeted its oil exports and banks.

Iran's Insa news agency quoted an Iranian negotiator as saying that "solutions" had been reached in the talks over the US and EU sanctions but that the UN ones remained a problem.

"The UN sanctions... have to be lifted completely and immediately," the diplomat said. This is thought to be a no-go for the powers, all except Germany permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Kerry is under pressure to return from Lausanne with something concrete to head off a push by Republicans to introduce yet more sanctions, something which could torpedo the whole negotiating process.

The Republicans are concerned that by leaving some of Iran's nuclear infrastructure intact, as seems likely, the mooted deal will not do enough to prevent Iran getting the bomb.

This concern is shared by Israel, widely assumed to have nuclear weapons itself, as well as Saudi Arabia, worried by the prospect of any US-Iranian rapprochement with the West after 35 years of acrimony.

© 2015 AFP

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