Iran's Zarif Says Progress Made on Key Issues, Hopes to Draft Nuclear Deal on Wednesday

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov says sides bridged gaps on key issues, framework agreement to be finalized soon.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 29, 2015.
Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 29, 2015.Credit: AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

LAUSANNE – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said early on Wednesday that the six world powers and Iran have found solutions to most of the issues being negotiated in Lausanne, Swizerland, over Iran's nuclear program.

"We have accomplished quite a bit but people needed to get some rest and start over early in the morning," Zarif said. "I hope that we can finalize the work on Wednesday and hopefully start the process of drafting [a framework agreement]."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that progress was made and that a framework agreement is due to be drafted on Wednesday. He said the sides were able to agree on the principal issues, and added that a joint statement on the forming deal will be given on Wednesday by Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Federika Mogherini.

European diplomats with knowledge of the discussions said late on Tuesday, after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi flew back home to Beijing, that most of the other foreign ministers also plan to leave Lausanne. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius left for Paris overnight Wednesday and may return on Wednesday afternoon, if needed; German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, will leave the talks on Wednesday morning. Mogherini and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will remain in Lausanne on Wednesday.

After the media was briefed that some of the foreign ministers plan to leave the nuclear negotiations, many outlets reported that the Iranians were given an ultimatum to reach a decision by Wednesday morning. Furious over the briefing by their European counterparts, senior U.S. officials were quick to deny that an ultimatum was issued. A similar statement was also published by the Iranians.

Kerry held a secure video conference call with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening and gave him an update on the talks.

The European diplomats also said that the meetings between the sides continued almost uninterrupted on Tuesday evening and overnight Wednesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, after a week of intensive deliberations that ended without a framework agreement for continuing the negotiations, the foreign ministers of Iran and the six world powers decided at 9 P.M., just three hours before their self-imposed deadline, to continue the talks through the night.

"We've made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday. There are several difficult issues still remaining," Acting spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State Marie Harf said.

Representatives of Iran and the six powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – have been conducting talks since last Wednesday in an attempt to arrive at principles that would guide the negotiations through the final deadline of June 30.

Western diplomats had said Iran’s representatives were playing for time and that they refused to compromise on the outstanding points of disagreement, including how many years the final agreement would remain in effect, the pace at which the international sanctions against Tehran would be lifted, and the future of the research and development work being conducted on its advanced centrifuges.

The decision to extend the talks by 24 hours came after the most intensive day yet of negotiations, beginning at 7 A.M. Tuesday. Every couple of hours, a meeting lasting a few hours was convened, with the participation of Zarif, Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the United States, China, France, Britain and Germany.

During the afternoon they were joined by Lavrov, who had returned to Lausanne from Moscow. His Chinese counterpart, who flew back to Beijing Tuesday evening, left his deputy behind to continue in his stead. After recessing for dinner, the foreign ministers reconvened and continued the talks into the night.

Fabius said last night that progress was being made but it was very slow going. A source in the German delegation told Reuters that the negotiations were “a difficult struggle for a realistic solution that is acceptable to both sides,” adding that while it was “still too early to think about stopping the clock” on the talks, such a step “may perhaps prove necessary.”

In a briefing to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the talks would keep going until today if needed, saying, “If we are making progress toward the finish line, then we should keep going.”

He stressed, however, that U.S. President Barack Obama still believed it was better not to reach an agreement then to reach a bad agreement. “The president is not going to be in a position to sign a bad deal,” Earnest said, adding that Obama would prefer to keep the talks going, but that ending them was also an option. “We’re not going to wait all the way until June 30 to walk away,” Earnest said, if it’s clear that reaching a framework agreement is impossible.

Just hours before the midnight deadline, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his remarks at Tuesday afternoon’s swearing-in of the new Knesset to attack the nuclear negotiations in Switzerland.

“The agreement that is shaping up in Lausanne will pave the way for an Iran with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “Iran’s breakout time to producing nuclear weapons will not last years, as was said at the start, but will decrease to under a year, if not less.”

Netanyahu said in his speech that he appreciated Israel’s alliance with the United States, but acknowledged that there were differences between the two countries on the subject of Iran. “When it comes to existential danger, Israel must stand up for itself,” he stressed.

The prime minister maintained that the world powers had capitulated on a series of issues, over which they had taken a far stronger position at the start of the talks.

“The agreement that is taking shape in Lausanne will leave Iran with underground facilities for the enrichment of uranium, a heavy-water reactor in Arak and advanced centrifuges,” Netanyahu said.

“These are things which just a few months ago we were told – correctly – were not essential for a peaceful nuclear program.”

He added that Israel “will not stick its head in the sand,” and will do everything necessary to defend itself.

Iran had embarked on a campaign of conquest in the Middle East, Netanyahu said, stressing that many countries in the region shared Israel’s position concerning the agreement that was taking shape in Lausanne.

That reality, he noted, had created a positive opportunity for the possible contribution of the Arab states towards advancing peace with the Palestinians.

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