Iran's foreign minister heads to Brussels as nuclear talks intensify (dpa German Press Agency)

Brussels/Lausanne, Switzerland (dpa) – Talks on a nuclear deal with Iran have entered a crucial phase, but there is still a long way to go, top EU diplomats said Monday in Brussels, ahead of meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran and six world powers are stepping up the diplomatic pace this week to reach a framework deal by the end of March.
The agreement forsees allowing Tehran to enrich uranium as reactor fuel only under tight international controls, in order to ensure nuclear weapons are not produced.
“Well, we’re closer than we were, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.
Zarif was set to interrupt his talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city of Lausanne to meet Britain’s Hammond, France’s Laurent Fabius, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels.
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.
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.
Besides Saudi Arabia, Israel and conservative US opposition legislators have made clear in recent days that they are wary of an agreement with Tehran’s Islamic leaders.
Republican US senators have sent a letter to Iran’s leaders, claiming that any agreement could become invalid after President Barack Obama ends his term.
German Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that despite this letter, “I remain of the opinion that we should take the chance and resolve this conflict after many years, decades and more than 10 years of negotiations.”
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.