Iran nuclear talks go down to wire as Israel lashes out
LAUSANNE - Agence France-Presse
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony at President Reuven Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar AwadHigh-stakes negotiations to rein in Iran’s suspect nuclear programme looked set to go down to the wire on March 29 with only three days left until a midnight deadline for the outlines of a deal.
In a sign that the complex talks were coming to a head, top US diplomat John Kerry cancelled plans to attend a high-profile event in his beloved Boston on March 30 to stay at the negotiating table.
"Given the ongoing nuclear negotiations, (Kerry) will not be able to share this special time ... in person," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said of Monday’s dedication of new institute in honour of late senator Ted Kennedy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country is widely believed to have nuclear weapons itself, denounced as "dangerous" the accord that is on the table.
"The dangerous accord which is being negotiated in Lausanne confirms our concerns and even worse," Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on public radio.
Kerry met again early March 29 with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the latest in a flurry of closed-door discussions at a luxury hotel in the Swiss town of Lausanne.
Asked afterwards if he was going to get his deal, Kerry said: "I don’t know."
"It’s going all right. We’re working," he added.
French and German foreign ministers have already arrived in Lausanne, along with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi flew in early Sunday, and was due to meet separately with both Kerry and Zarif. The Russian and British foreign ministers were also expected during the day.
Officials have expressed guarded optimism that after 18 months of tortuous negotiations and two missed deadlines that a breakthrough might be in sight for a deal ending 12 years of tensions.
"If we manage to resolve all the remaining issues today or in the next two to three days, then we can begin to draw up a text. But for the moment we are still in discussions," a source close to the Iranian delegation said March 29.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who like French counterpart Laurent Fabius joined the negotiations on Saturday, said the talks were in the "endgame".
Steinmeier added however that "the final metres are the most difficult but also the decisive ones".
The aim is to agree broad outlines for an accord by Tuesday’s midnight deadline, and then flesh out a series of complex annexes containing all the technical details by June 30.
The mooted deal would see Iran scale down its nuclear programme and allow unprecedented inspections of its remaining activities.
The hope is to prolong the theoretical "breakout" time that Iran would need to produce enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb to at least a year from the current estimate of several months.
This would require a combination of slashing the number of machines producing nuclear material, converting the capacities of existing nuclear plants such as the underground Fordo facility, exporting its stocks of enriched uranium and limiting the development of newer, faster equipment.
But Iran, which denies wanting nuclear weapons, is insisting that in exchange global powers must lift sanctions that have choked its economy by strangling its oil exports and banks.
The issue of UN sanctions is proving particularly thorny, diplomats said, with global powers insisting the sanctions should be eased only gradually to ensure that they can be "snapped" back into place if Iran violates the deal.
"The brinksmanship in these negotiations will no doubt continue until the 11th hour," said Ali Vaez, an expert at the International Crisis Group.
Kerry is under pressure to return from Lausanne with something concrete to head off a push by Republican lawmakers to introduce yet more sanctions, potentially torpedoing the whole negotiating process.
Russia has also warned that US-supported airstrikes by Iran’s foe Saudi Arabia on Iran-backed rebels in Yemen were "having an impact".
"We hope that the situation in Yemen will not bring about a change in the position of certain participants," said Russia’s chief negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, quoted by Ria Novosti news agency.