LAUSANNE: Marathon talks missed a midnight deadline to agree the outlines of a nuclear deal with Iran as negotiators got bogged down in seemingly intractable key issues.
A senior US State Department official said negotiators in Switzerland would “keep working… if we are continuing to make progress, including into tomorrow (Wednesday), if it’s useful to do so.”
As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi left the crunch talks in Lausanne, his French counterpart Laurent Fabius said he was “afraid we may be going through the night”.
“We are making progress. But it’s complicated, it’s long and difficult,” Fabius told reporters after leaving a five-hour meeting between foreign ministers from six world powers and Iran.
A German diplomatic source sounded a similar tone, saying that after a day of “difficult” negotiations in a “changeable” atmosphere, “stopping the clock may in fact be necessary”.
Senior Iranian negotiator Hamid Baidinejad said: “The negotiations will end when solutions have been found … We are ready to continue. We are not watching the clock.”
The return earlier to Lausanne of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had brought a ray of optimism, having said in Moscow before leaving that the chances of an accord were “high”.
The two sides are hoping to lay the groundwork for ending the 12-year-old crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The stakes are high, with fears that failure to reach a deal may set the United States and Israel on a road to military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, which Tehran says is purely peaceful.
Under a deal to be finalised by June 30, the powers want Iran to scale back its nuclear programme to give the world ample notice of any dash to make the bomb by extending the so-called “breakout” time.
In return, the Islamic republic is demanding the lifting of sanctions that have strangled its economy.
But the question is how much of this will be in the framework accord that Iran and the six powers — the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — want to reach by midnight (2200 GMT).
While Iran and western powers juggle to reach an agreement, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said that the effort will not be able to reap benefits without the cooperation of its gulf neighbours.
Prince Saud al Faisal’s comments came on deadline day to reach a framework agreement aimed at stopping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, in exchange for easing crippling sanctions.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2015.