Iranian military parade showcasing missiles.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ZURICH – Negotiations resume between world powers and Iran on Thursday on the shores of Lake Geneva, theoretically for the last time before an end-of-March deadline for the parties to agree on a political framework concerning Tehran’s nuclear work.
Departing the small city of Lausanne last week, Iranian negotiators expressed optimism that diplomats were close to reaching a deal agreeable to Tehran. But the United States and France – parties to the negotiation alongside Britain, Germany, Russia and China – appeared split on key provisions, including how quickly sanctions against Iran should be lifted.
Iran’s diplomats return on Thursday insisting that all sanctions against their country are lifted as a condition for a nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday, showing no sign of compromise on a major sticking point.
“This is the position that the government has insisted on from the start,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.
French negotiators balked at the suggestion, last week telling journalists that such a concession was “out of the question” while expressing concern that the negotiations are stalled.
Publicly, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has suggested the March 31 deadline was poorly conceived, undermining the West’s negotiating position with unnecessary pressure to rush out an accord.
And on Tuesday, France’s delegate to the United Nations told the international body that progress toward an agreement has been “insufficient,” and that Tehran has “tough choices to make” in the days ahead.
The Obama administration seeks to tie sanctions relief to actions from Tehran on its nuclear program – some of which are to be permanent and immediate, some of which are to take several years.
Washington’s experts are trying to craft a mechanism at the UN Security Council that would automatically “snap back” sanctions into place should Iran violate any aspect of an agreement, without a fully new vote in the council, where Russia and China wield veto power.
Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry return to the negotiating table in Lausanne with six days left on the clock: Both men have said they hope to reach a “big picture” understanding by March 31, which would frame a comprehensive joint plan of action to be completed by the end of June.
Without a framework deal, legislation triggering new, conditional sanctions on Iran may finally reach the US Senate floor for a vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) suggested on Wednesday.
“Another heavy dose of sanctions would be an appropriate remedy if there’s no agreement at all,” McConnell told reporters in his weekly briefing.
He alone can schedule floor debate and votes on legislation, and he has thus far held off on doing so with Iran bills, holding out for bipartisan support.
Legislators say that Israeli officials continue to lobby against a deal, though Democratic support is still low for legislation during the diplomatic process. US President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any bills passed during the negotiations.
Reuters contributed to this report.