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Nuclear Talks With Iran Head Toward Endgame as Deadlines Loom

Fabius

French say accord must include transparency on Tehran’s future nuclear activities

LAUSANNE, Switzerland— Laurence Norman reports: Several European foreign ministers arrived in Switzerland for nuclear talks with Iran on Saturday, with Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying the negotiations were now entering the endgame.

Officials said it remained unclear, however, if Iran and the six-power group with which it negotiates would be able to meet a March 31 deadline to reach a political understanding on the main parameters of a nuclear deal.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had already held two days of talks in this Swiss lakeside city with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other top officials. A senior U.S. official described those talks on Friday as tough and very serious.

Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference on February 8. Photo: Reuters

Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference on February 8. Photo: Reuters

“Sanctions, pressure and an agreement do not go together.”

—Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Saturday, after meeting with his French and German counterparts.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Mr. Steinmeier and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also arrived here on Saturday, as the two sides made a final 72 hour push to advance the talks.

Failure to reach a political deal on time would pile pressure on the Obama administration in Washington, where lawmakers from both parties have threatened to advance legislation increasing sanctions on Iran, when Congress returns from recess. Such a situation could trigger a major crisis in the diplomatic efforts.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Friday that any political deal may simply be a political statement with a narrative about the main points. Mr. Hammond suggested meeting the March 31 deadline could be challenging and said the current congressional break gave the negotiators some extra leeway to seal a political deal.

A final, detailed nuclear agreement is due to be sealed by June 30.

“The discussions have been long, difficult. We advance on some points and on other points not enough.”

—French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Saturday

Speaking to reporters on Saturday outside the luxury hotel where the talks are taking place, Mr. Fabius said: “I come here with the wish to advance towards a robust accord.”

“The discussions have been long, difficult. We advance on some points and on other points not enough,” he added.

Mr. Fabius said that what is very important is the transparency Iran agrees to for overseeing its nuclear activities and the “controls, to be sure that the commitments made are respected.”

Kerry-bump-reuters-denis-bailbouse

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

Germany’s Mr. Steinmeier struck a brighter tone as he headed into an afternoon of meetings with Mr. Kerry, Mr. Fabius and Iran’s Mr. Zarif. He said that after 12 years of nuclear talks with Iran, negotiations have entered the endgame. However, he said the final steps to be taken “are the most difficult but also the decisive ones.”

“I can only hope that given what we have achieved in the last 12 months that we don’t cease to try and reach a final agreement. The last 12 months have shown that there is serious willingness on all sides to negotiate,” he said.

Mr. Fabius has adopted a strong line in the Iran talks in recent weeks, with France appearing at odds with the U.S., at times, over what a final nuclear agreement must contain.

French officials have stressed several specific points in recent weeks. They want to be sure there are real constraints on Iran’s nuclear research work to ensure Tehran cannot advance toward more sophisticated technology that would allow them to produce nuclear fuel much more quickly.

They have also said they want to ensure Tehran addresses long-standing questions about its past nuclear work that western officials believe was aimed…(read more)

WSJ

—Jay Solomon contributed to this article

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

 

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