(Iran's Hard-Liners Irked By Zarif's Geneva Stroll With Kerry)
Iranian FM Zarif to John Kerry: "Please keep your distance during the negotiations so they won't gossip about us."
(cartoon by Javad Alizadeh, Iranian daily Ghanoon)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on the eve of nuclear talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that it is possible "in the next days" to reach a framework political deal with Iran if Tehran can show its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.
Kerry is traveling to Lausanne, Switzerland on March 15 for talks with Zarif aimed at resolving remaining differences between Tehran and six world powers on a political deal before an end-of-March deadline.
Negotiators would then push forward to try to reach a permanent agreement by the end of June.
Earlier on March 14, Kerry said progress has been made toward a deal that eases economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for verifiable assurances Tehran is not trying to develop nuclear weapons.
But he gave a more cautious assessment, saying "important gaps" remain and Iran must make "important choices" in order to move forward.
Speaking at an economic conference in Egypt, Kerry had said early on March 14 that it was "unclear" whether the political framework agreement could be reached before the deadline in two weeks.
Iran and the P5+1 group - the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany - also have set a June 30 deadline to reach a final agreement.
Kerry told journalists in Egypt that the purpose of his talks with Zarif in Switzerland "is not just to get any deal. It is to get the right deal."
He said the agreement must be "a deal that would protect the world, including the United States and our closest allies and partners, from a threat that a nuclear armed Iran could pose."
Iran claims its nuclear program is only for peaceful civilian purposes such as power generation and medical research.
In Lausanne, starting on March 15, the negotiators are expected to talk about freezing Iran's uranium and plutonium programs for at least a decade in exchange for a gradual easing of economic sanctions against Iran.
In Egypt on March 14, Kerry also mentioned the March 9 letter signed by 47 Republican senators that was sent to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
That letter warned that the deal currently being negotiated could be canceled after the next U.S. presidential elections when a new U.S. president takes office in early 2017.
Kerry called the letter "direct interference in the negotiations of the executive department" and said it would inevitably "raise questions in the minds of folks with whom we are negotiating."
Khamenei already commented on the letter on March 12, saying U.S. officials habitually become "harsher, tougher, and coarser" when progress is being made in negotiations.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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