25 August 2019
Officials wait for the start of the plenary session on Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
Officials wait for the start of the plenary session on Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Iran nuclear talks to drag on past deadline

Negotiators have agreed to extend talks on Iran’s nuclear program shortly before a deadline on Tuesday midnight passed without reaching a preliminary accord. The United States warned that it was ready to abandon the talks altogether.

As Iran affirmed its “nuclear rights”, the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne appeared to bog down, and officials cautioned that any agreement would probably be fragile and incomplete, Reuters reported.

The US State Department said efforts to forge a deal would go on past the self-imposed deadline of March 31.

“We’ve made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday,” acting spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “There are several difficult issues still remaining.”‎

For nearly a week, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have been trying to break an impasse in the talks, aimed at stopping Iran from gaining the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb in exchange for the easing of international sanctions crippling its economy.

The outline political accord is supposed to lay the foundations for a final settlement of the long-running nuclear dispute by June 30 — another self-imposed deadline, but one that Western powers have said they do not want to extend.

A senior Iranian negotiator said Tehran was willing to continue talks until the deadlock is resolved.

“Iran does not want a nuclear deal just for the sake of having a deal, and a final deal should guarantee the Iranian nation’s nuclear rights,” Hamid Baidinejad told reporters.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington that US negotiators will not wait until June 30 to walk away from the talks if they cannot reach a preliminary political agreement.

“If we’re not able to reach a political agreement, then we’re not going to wait … until June 30 to walk away,” he said.

“We are moving forward, but it’s complicated,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Lausanne.

Disagreements on enrichment research and the pace of lifting sanctions threatened to scupper a deal that could end the 12-year-old standoff and reduce the risk of another Middle East war, the news agency said. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

For days officials have been trying to agree on a brief document of several pages outlining headline numbers to form the basis of a future agreement.

Speaking in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande said it would be better to have no deal than a bad deal.

An agreement would almost certainly lift sanctions only in stages, deferring even a partial return of Iranian crude exports until at least 2016.

Sanctions have halved Iran’s oil exports to just over 1 million barrels per day since 2012 when oil and financial sanctions hit Iran. Brent crude dropped toward US$55 a barrel on Tuesday as negotiations continued.

Officials from both sides said the main sticking points were the removal of the UN sanctions and Iranian demands for the right to unfettered research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after the first 10 years of the agreement expires.

The six powers want more than a 10-year suspension of Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work, the report said. Their goal is to find a way to ensure that for at least the next 10 years Iran is at least one year away from being able to produce enough fissile material for an atomic weapon.

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