U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pose before talks over Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne on March 16. (photo by Islamic Republic News Agency)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met on March 16 in Switzerland for crucial talks to secure an agreement on Iran's controversial nuclear program.
The meeting in Lausanne comes before an end-of-March deadline for the framework of a deal that would curb Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from international sanctions.
A final agreement is due by June 30.
Top American and Iranian diplomats as well as technical experts met on March 15 ahead of the Kerry-Zarif talks.
Zarif will meet later this week with officials from the United States and the rest of the six world powers negotiating the deal with Iran -- Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.
Iranian FM Zarif: "We are ready to continue Negotiations during Norouz as well."
Note: Norouz is the Persian New Year that will start on Friday March 20th this year.
(cartoon by Keyvan Zargari, Shargh daily)
Kerry said in Egypt on March 15 that most of the problems holding back an agreement are "political" rather than technical.
He didn't elaborate on the issue, but experts say the political matters include the levels of inspections by international monitors and how quickly the international community would scale back the tough economic sanctions against Iran under a deal.
Kerry said Washington's aim is to "get the right deal."
He said that Tehran "to its credit, has thus far lived up to every part of the agreement we made over a year ago."
But he added that "important gaps" remain and Iran must make "important choices" in order to move forward.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi echoed that statement, being quoted by Iran's ISNA student news agency as saying that "serious gaps still remain," but added that "we hope to narrow the gaps on important disputes."
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said on March 16 that negotiations still had some way to go before a deal could be reached with Tehran.
"We are closer than we were but we've still got a long way to go," Philip Hammond told reporters in Brussels. "There are areas where we've made progress, areas where we have yet to make any progress."
Hammond, along with the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, is due to meet Zarif later on March 16 in Brussels.
Technical matters expected to be discussed before a deal could be made include how many uranium-enriching centrifuges Iran can keep, the types of centrifuges it can have, and how much plutonium Tehran could produce in a planned heavy-water reactor.
Officials involved in the talks said Western powers were seeking concessions from Iran after the United States and European countries involved in the talks indicated a willingness to compromise on suspending UN sanctions.
The Reuters news agency reported last week that the six powers and Iran started discussing a possible draft UN resolution to endorse any future agreement and to address the lifting of UN sanctions.
Western officials said the UN sanctions could be eased quickly in the event an agreement was reached.
That was seen as a major concession on the part of the United States, which had long insisted that UN sanctions should remain in place for several years after a deal was signed, while U.S. and European sanctions could be removed more swiftly.
Iran wants the UN, EU, and U.S. sanctions lifted at the same time.
Tehran and the six world powers have been negotiating for years and reached an interim agreement in November 2014, but two self-imposed deadlines for a broader deal passed last year without agreement.
Tehran insists that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, but other countries suspect it might harbor covert ambitions to build nuclear weapons.
Kerry has repeatedly said that "no deal is better than a bad deal."
With reporting by AFP, AFP, and Reuters
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