France spurs Iran to make 'new effort' for nuclear deal

27th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

France urged Iran Friday to make "new efforts" to clinch a long-sought nuclear deal with global powers, as Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius prepared to join marathon talks hurtling towards a deadline.

"We wish to have an agreement and it is possible, but there has to be new progress," Fabius told reporters ahead of his trip to Lausanne, Switzerland, intending to join the negotiations early Saturday.

"There has to be new efforts from our Iranian partners," he insisted.

The negotiations in Lausanne aim to agree by Tuesday the contours of a deal that world powers leading the effort -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- hope will thwart any Iranian drive to develop nuclear weapons.

But after 18 months of talks which have criss-crossed the globe since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, Tehran says it has already done enough to ally global concerns about its atomic programme.

"The negotiations are difficult. They've been difficult since the beginning and they still are," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told AFP before going into a second meeting of the day with top US diplomat John Kerry.

Another member of the Iranian delegation said: "It all depends on the willingness of the other side. All the solutions are on the table."

"We have already done what we need to do," he added.

Rouhani made an extraordinary appeal to world leaders on Thursday writing a letter to US President Barack Obama, and in a blitz phoning his counterparts in Britain, China, France and Russia, urging them not "to lose this exceptional opportunity."

But Fabius, who has warned against a soft deal leaving Iran within reach of obtaining nuclear weapons, told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York that Rouhani's message was "not very precise."

A full deal, capping more than a decade of tensions over Iran's atomic ambitions, is then meant to be rounded out with complex technical annexes by a June 30 deadline.

World powers hope to scale back Iran's nuclear capacity by cutting its number of sophisticated centrifuges for spinning enriched uranium, and reconfiguring some of its facilities, such as the underground Fordo plant.

- Next 48 hours -

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was "hopeful that we're going to be making that progress over the next 48 hours" adding he was prepared to fly in at a moment's notice, but was wary of "going and sitting in a hotel room for two days."

"I will jump on a plane and go to Lausanne as soon as we sense that we're getting to the point where we need to sit down," he told reporters in Washington.

As to how the eventual deal might be presented, Hammond stressed it would be a political outline of an agreement that would be finalised in detail over the coming months.

"Conceptually what's envisaged is a statement of broad understanding, the political parameters," he said.

Kerry needs to return to Washington with something concrete to head off threatened fresh US sanctions by the opposition Republicans, who together with Israel fear the mooted deal will be too weak.

It was possible that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier may "travel to Lausanne, but no decision has been made yet," his spokesman said.

The European Union's foreign police chief Federica Mogherini is also to join the talks on Sunday, a diplomatic source said.

Highlighting one of the main difficulties in the talks, Rouhani, whose 2013 election led to the current diplomatic push, also called Thursday for "unjust" sanctions choking the country's economy to be lifted.

"The peaceful character of (Iran's) nuclear activities and the necessity to annul all the unjust sanctions can lead us to a final deal," Rouhani's office quoted him as telling British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The six powers are however insisting sanctions will only be suspended, not lifted, to enable them to be quickly put back in place if Tehran violates the deal.

In a sign of the international diplomacy gathering pace, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during which they raised "problems linked to the Iranian nuclear programme" as well as other global crises.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could arrive in Lausanne on Sunday evening, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti said, citing anonymous sources.

© 2015 AFP

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