Iran nuke talks to con­tinue in new phase: of­fi­cials

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY GE­ORGE JAHN AND MATTHEW LEE

Wrap­ping up six days of marathon nu­clear talks with mixed re­sults, Iran and six world pow­ers pre­pared Tues­day to is­sue a gen­eral state­ment agree­ing to con­tinue talks in a new phase aimed at reach­ing a fi­nal agree­ment to con­trol Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions by the end of June, of­fi­cials told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day.

Of­fi­cials had set a dead­line of March 31 for a frame­work agree­ment, and later soft­ened that word­ing to a frame­work un­der­stand­ing, be­tween Iran and the so-called P5+1 na­tions — the United States, the United King­dom, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia and China.

And af­ter in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tions, ob­sta­cles re­mained on ura­nium en­rich­ment, where stock­piles of en­riched ura­nium should be stored, lim­its on Iran’s nu­clear re­search and devel­op­ment and the tim­ing and scope of sanc­tions re­lief among other is­sues.

The joint state­ment is to be ac­com­pa­nied by ad­di­tional doc­u­ments that out­line more de­tailed un­der­stand­ings, al­low­ing the sides to claim enough progress has been made thus far to merit a new round, the of­fi­cials said. Iran has not yet signed off on the doc­u­ments, one of­fi­cial said, mean­ing any un­der­stand­ing re­mains un­clear.

The talks have al­ready been ex­tended twice as part of more than a decade of diplo­matic at­tempts to curb Tehran’s nu­clear ad­vance.

The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to com­ment on the talks on the record.

If the par­ties agree only to a broad frame­work that leaves key de­tails un­re­solved, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama could face stiff op­po­si­tion from mem­bers of Congress who want to move for­ward with new Iran sanc­tions leg­is­la­tion. Law­mak­ers had agreed to hold off on such a mea­sure through March while the par­ties ne­go­ti­ated.

Obama has warned that pass­ing new sanc­tions dur­ing the talks could up­end the sen­si­tive dis­cus­sions.

The soft­en­ing of the lan­guage from a frame­work “agree­ment” to a frame­work “un­der­stand­ing” ap­peared due in part to op­po­si­tion to a two-stage agree­ment from Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei. Ear­lier this year, he de­manded only one deal that nails down specifics and does not per­mit the other side to “make things dif­fi­cult” by giv­ing it wig­gle room on in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, who left Lau­sanne Mon­day, was head­ing back to the Swiss city, also in­di­cat­ing that an end to the talks was near.

In Moscow, he told re­porters: “Prospects for this round of ne­go­ti­a­tions were not bad, and I would even say good.”

Some of the P5+ 1’ s for­eign min­is­ters joined Kerry and Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif at the talks over the week­end in an in­tense ef­fort to reach a po­lit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing on terms that would curb Iran’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties in ex­change for sanc­tions re­lief.

Kerry and oth­ers said the sides have made some progress, with Iran con­sid­er­ing de­mands for fur­ther cuts to its ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gram but push­ing back on how long it must limit tech­nol­ogy it could use to make atomic arms. In ad­di­tion to stick­ing points on re­search and devel­op­ment, dif­fer­ences re­main on the tim­ing and scope of sanc­tions re­moval, the of­fi­cials said.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion says any deal will stretch the time Iran needs to make a nu­clear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year. But crit­ics ob­ject that it would keep Tehran’s nu­clear tech­nol­ogy in­tact.

Of­fi­cials in Lau­sanne said the sides were ad­vanc­ing on lim­its to as­pects of Iran’s pro­gram to en­rich ura­nium, which can be used to make the core war­head.

Ura­nium en­rich­ment has been the chief con­cern for more than a decade. But West­ern of­fi­cials say the main ob­sta­cles to a deal are no longer en­rich­ment-re­lated but in­stead the type and length of re­stric­tions on Tehran’s re­search and devel­op­ment of ad­vanced cen­trifuges and the pace of sanc­tions-lift­ing.

Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from de­mand­ing that it be al­lowed to keep nearly 10,000 cen­trifuges en­rich­ing ura­nium, to agree­ing to 6,000, plus an­other 480 cen­trifuges in the un­der­ground fa­cil­ity in Fordo that the Ira­ni­ans say would be used only to en­rich other el­e­ments used for peace­ful pur­poses. The of­fi­cials said Tehran now may be ready to ac­cept even fewer.

Tehran says it wants to en­rich only for en­ergy, science, in­dus­try and medicine. But many coun­tries fear Iran could use the tech­nol­ogy to make weapons-grade ura­nium.

of a nu­clear

AP

A mem­ber of the Ira­nian me­dia walks on an open air chess board at the site of ne­go­ti­a­tions about Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram, be­tween Iran of­fi­cials and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the world pow­ers on Mon­day, March 30 in Lau­sanne, Switzer­land. Ne­go­ti­a­tions over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram en­tered a crit­i­cal phase on Mon­day with sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences still re­main­ing less than two days be­fore a dead­line for the out­line of an agree­ment.

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