Tags: iran | us | nuclear | negotiations

Lifting Sanctions Main Sticking Point as Iran Nuke Talks Enter Endgame

By    |   Saturday, 28 March 2015 07:21 PM

Iran’s insistence on an immediate lifting of United Nations sanctions is a main obstacle to securing a framework agreement on its disputed nuclear program by March 31, five European and U.S. diplomats said.

The Western powers negotiating with Iran have proposed lifting UN sanctions in four to six years, according to the officials who asked not to be named, in line with diplomatic rules. Some sanctions may remain in place for as long as a decade, they said.

The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, is expected to offer fresh proposals when he arrives on Sunday morning, according to two people involved in the talks.

Talks between the Persian Gulf nation, which holds the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, and six world powers continued Saturday for a fourth day in Lausanne, Switzerland. The sides are in danger of missing a self-imposed end-of-March deadline needed to set up a comprehensive deal by July 1.

Iran continues to insist that all sanctions must be lifted once it agrees to place curbs on its nuclear activities. The UN Security Council, the U.S. Treasury Department and the European Union have all levied economic sanctions on the country over its nuclear program.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on Saturday that while headway had been made on sanctions relief, there was more to do.

“They have realized that sanctions pressure and an agreement will not go together,” Zarif said. “I see that Germany and France are really serious about reaching an agreement.”

Oil Sanctions

The European and U.S. approach focuses on first suspending and then permanently removing sanctions over the lifetime of a deal. Oil sanctions could be lifted within months of an agreement if Iran agrees on a deal that limits its nuclear capacity and allows for broader international verification, one European diplomat said.

By contrast, Iran wants UN Security Council sanctions lifted immediately.

“Our president has expressly said that the removal of sanctions has to take place immediately when an agreement is reached,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this month in his New Year address to the nation. “The U.S. keeps repeating that we’ll sign a deal with Iran and see if it abides, then we’ll remove the sanctions. This is wrong and unacceptable.”

Russia’s View

Earlier on Saturday, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that narrowing disagreements put chances of meeting the March 31 deadline at “significantly higher than 50 percent.”

“If we don’t manage to agree this time, this shouldn’t lead to a complete reassessment,” because the deadline for a final deal is not until the end of June, Ryabkov said.

Parties are close to an agreement on turning Iran’s Fordo enrichment facility into a medical isotope production center, an official at the talks said. While Iran would be prohibited from enriching uranium at Fordo, centrifuges would be allowed to produce molybdenum and other isotopes, according to the official’s account.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, along with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, joined Saturday’s talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due in Lausanne on Sunday.

China in an earlier round of talks this month proposed ways to address lifting UN sanctions.

Western and Iranian officials familiar with the negotiations cautioned that the talks could still fail.

"The sides are very, very close to the final step and it could be signed or agreed and announced verbally," a senior Iranian official familiar with the talks told Reuters about the two- to three-page document the sides hoped to be able to issue in the event of an agreement.

Ahead of meeting Zarif, Kerry said he expected the discussions to run late. Zarif added that the meetings would run through "evening, night, midnight, morning".

Separately Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Twitter that he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the two agreed on the need for a resolution of the nuclear issue. Earlier this week Rouhani sent a letter to the heads of state of all six powers, including to U.S. President Barack Obama, with the same message. He also spoke on the phone with five of the six leaders, but not with Obama.

If agreed, the outline document would cover key numbers for a comprehensive agreement between Iran and the six powers, such as the maximum number and types of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran could operate, the size of uranium stockpiles it could maintain, the types of atomic research and development it could undertake and also details on the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Several Iranian officials denied that Iran was close to agreeing on the document, but a Western diplomat said such comments were aimed at a domestic audience.

"The difficulty is that the Iranians are not moving enough. They like to negotiate right up to the precipice and they're very good at that," a Western diplomat said.

One key number is expected to be the duration of the agreement, which officials said would have to be in place for more than 10 years.

The framework accord should be followed by a comprehensive deal by June 30 that includes full technical details.

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The foreign ministers of France and Germany joined the top U.S. and Iranian diplomats on Saturday to help break an impasse in nuclear negotiations as major powers and Iran closed in on a two- or three-page accord that could form the basis of a long-term deal. The...
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2015-21-28
Saturday, 28 March 2015 07:21 PM
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