British FM ready to join Iran talks 'within 48 hours'
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. REUTERS PhotoIn the latest sign a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran is imminent, British foreign minister Philip Hammond said March 27 he was ready to join the talks this weekend.
Hammond, speaking to reporters on a visit to Washington, said the deal was close but that it was not clear how it would be presented or whether there would be a written accord.
"We're hopeful that we're going to be making that progress over the next 48 hours, and I'm ready to go whenever I need to go, over the weekend," he said.
Earlier, the foreign ministry in London had said Hammond would head to the Lausanne talks over the weekend, but the minister said he would only fly to Switzerland if there was an immediate prospect of progress.
"I'm going back to London and I will go to Lausanne as soon as it's appropriate to be there," he said, explaining that the talks were in a highly technical phase.
Hammond noted that a previous round of talks held in Vienna last November failed, and said he was now wary of "going and sitting in a hotel room for two days."
"It's only an hour, an hour-and-a-half, flight away," he said. "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."
As to how the eventual deal might be presented, Hammond stressed it would be a political outline of an agreement that would be finalized in detail over the coming months.
And he was not able to say whether there would be a written statement representing "an understanding of the shape of the deal" and signed by all parties, including Tehran.
"Conceptually what's envisaged is a statement of broad understanding, the political parameters," he explained. "We envisage being able to deliver a narrative. Whether that is written down or not I don't think is the crucial issue, but it will be in headline form."
Asked whether the narrative would be delivered in a joint statement agreed between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, Hammond said: "We'll have to see how we handle that.
"The point, I think, is momentum. This will be a political statement, or perhaps political statements from the P5+1 and Iran," he said.
Earlier, a spokesman for French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who has warned against a soft deal leaving Iran within reach of obtaining nuclear weapons, said he would join the talks on Saturday.
Fabius -- and Hammond if he decides to fly -- will join US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Lausanne.
After 18 months of intense negotiations, the fresh round of talks is aimed at reaching a deal before a final deadline of March 31.
The six negotiating powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- want Tehran to disable parts of its nuclear infrastructure and submit to tight inspections.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, and wants its opponents to dismantle a complex web of economic sanctions that threatens to wreck its economy.