Iran, US edging closer to nuclear deal, Zarif says (dpa German Press Agency)

Brussels/Lausanne, Switzerland (dpa) – Tehran and the United States made further progress Monday towards a deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said before talks in Brussels with his French, German and British counterparts.
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, Western powers will lift their economically stifling sanctions on Tehran.
“On some points we came closer to an agreement,” Zarif said following five hours of talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne with US Secretary of State John Kerry. He gave no details.
“We still have time until Friday and then we will all know more,” the minister told Iranian media. Tehran is keen to reach a framework agreement in time for the Persian new year, on Saturday.
From Lausanne, Zarif travelled to Brussels for talks with Britain’s Hammond, France’s Laurent Fabius, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
“We hope for a deal, but only if it is really solid,” Fabius said ahead of the meeting. “Important points remain that have not been settled.”
“We’re closer than we were, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Hammond added.
Mogherini said the talks were “entering a crucial time, a crucial two weeks” leading up to the self-imposed deadline.
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 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 in Lausanne and Brussels, 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 talks with the US and the three involved EU countries are crucial because they are the ones that will have to lift sanctions under the agreement.
How fast the sanctions can be removed is still one of the divisive issues.