Kerry stresses unity over Iran nuclear deal

21st March 2015, Comments 0 comments

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday said he was "united" with Britain, France and Germany on seeking a nuclear deal with Iran, whose president said an agreement was "possible".

Kerry began talks in London with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, France's Laurent Fabius, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, amid reports of disagreements over their negotiating position.

The gathering comes one day after the latest round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- ended with no breakthrough.

Both Washington and Tehran indicated, however, that major steps had been made towards a deal that would see Iran scale back its controversial nuclear programme in return for relief from sanctions.

Kerry, speaking in Lausanne in Switzerland before heading to London, said there had been "substantial progress".

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani declared separately that "an agreement is possible".

"There is nothing that cannot be resolved," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

But he conceded there were still "points of disagreement".

- 'Death to America!' -

The Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meanwhile moved to quell speculation that a deal with the West could lead to wider cooperation.

"No way," he told a raucous crowd in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad in a closely watched speech marking the Persian new year festival of Nowruz.

Khamenei's comments appeared to be a rejection of overtures made by US President Barack Obama that a deal could lead to cooperation, chiefly against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

"The lifting of sanctions is part of the negotiations and not the outcome," Khamenei told the crowd, insisting that there could be no delay between the implementation of a deal and the removal of sanctions.

"What the Iranian nation does not want is to accept what the Americans want to impose by force," he said, as the crowd chanted back: "Death to America!"

France has expressed scepticism over the speed of a potential deal in which Iran would place its nuclear programme under severe restrictions in exchange for a stage-by-stage lifting of international sanctions.

Kerry sought to reassure that Washington was not trying to pressure partners into an agreement.

He said Iran still has to do more to prove it would abide by a deal and that "important gaps remain".

"It's time to make hard decisions," he said.

Iran and the United States have announced that the talks in Switzerland would resume on Wednesday or Thursday.

That leaves the two sides less than a week to meet a March 31 deadline for agreeing the outlines of a nuclear deal they hope will end a 12-year stand-off.

That deadline is itself subject to debate, though, with France's ambassador to Washington Gerard Araud calling it "counter-productive and dangerous".

"Need all our time to finalise a complex agreement," he wrote on Twitter, adding that it put "pressure on ourselves to conclude at any price".

- A 'robust' agreement -

The Guardian newspaper, citing diplomats at the Lausanne talks, said Washington had proposed a scheme for a phased lifting of UN sanctions but Paris only wanted a symbolic easing of the measures.

"The Americans are ready for an agreement that is far from the goals that were initially set," a source close to the negotiations told AFP.

The complex deal on the table, due to be finalised by July, is aimed at convincing the world that Iran will not build nuclear weapons under the guise of its ongoing civilian energy programme.

It would likely involve Iran reducing its nuclear activities, allowing tight inspections, and limiting development of new nuclear machinery.

In exchange, Iran -- which denies wanting nuclear weapons -- would get relief from the mountain of painful sanctions that have strangled its oil exports and hammered its economy.

Western nations must reach a "robust" agreement, Fabius said following talks with Italian ministers in Caen in northern France before leaving for London.

Referring to the meeting at the British capital's Heathrow airport, he added: "We will discuss to see if we are headed for a definitive agreement".

"There are some points on which there has been undeniable progress but others remain difficult. That is the aim of our discussion," he said.

© 2015 AFP

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