EU ministers determined to reach nuclear deal with Iran (dpa German Press Agency)

Brussels/Lausanne, Switzerland (dpa) – The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain stressed their determination Monday to work for a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme, following talks in Brussels with their Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Negotiations to curb Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon have entered a crucial phase, with Iran and six world powers stepping up the diplomatic pace this week to reach a framework deal by the end of March.
The agreement foresees allowing Iran to enrich uranium as reactor fuel only under tight international controls. In return, economically stifling sanctions on Tehran will be lifted.
“We will … leave nothing untried in the coming weeks and months,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after two hours of talks hosted by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Despite recent progress, he said that “large hurdles” remain.
“We hope for a deal, but only if it is really solid,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said ahead of their meeting.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” added his British counterpart Philip Hammond.
Zarif travelled to Brussels from the Swiss city of Lausanne, where earlier Monday he spent five hours in negotiations with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“On some points we came closer to an agreement,” Zarif told Iranian media after their talks, without giving any details. “We still have time until Friday and then we will all know more,” he added.
Tehran is keen to reach a framework agreement in time for the Persian new year, on Saturday. Negotiations between Iran and the six powers are set to continue in Lausanne over the course of the week.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that if Tehran could not come to an agreement after more than a year of talks, “the president and our international partners will walk away. And we’ll seek to ratchet up the pressure on the Iranians.”
A detailed agreement between Iran and the group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany is to be worked out by the end of June, following 12 years of on-and-off negotiations.
Monday’s talks were overshadowed by warnings from Saudi Arabia that a deal with Iran could spark a nuclear technology race in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia would also seek the right to develop uranium enrichment technology, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the US, told the BBC.
“So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that,” said the prince, whose country is concerned that a nuclear deal would boost the regional status of its rival Iran.
Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities, initially developed in secret, are at the heart of the current negotiations, as this technology can be used to purify uranium at low grades for reactors, or for nuclear warheads at high grades.
Iran denies having such military aims.
But experts point out that mastering civilian nuclear enrichment technology brings countries closer to getting nuclear weapons, should they choose to do so.
Iran’s direct negotiations with the US and the three involved EU countries are crucial, as individual nations make decisions about easing their own sanctions in addition to international measures imposed by the United Nations.
How fast the sanctions can be removed is still one of the divisive issues.
The US Congress, which has clashed with the White House over its desire to impose more sanctions on Iran, would have to lift the sanctions it put in place, but President Barack Obama could ease them in the meantime, Earnest said.
If Tehran complies with an agreement “not just over the course of days, not over the course of weeks and not over the course of months but over the longer term,” then Congress should act to lift sanctions, Earnest said.