US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pose for a photograph before resuming talks over Iran's nuclear program in Lausanne March 16, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- On a misty Monday morning along the Swiss Riviera, the Beau Rivage Palace was surrounded by a thick ring of security and loaded with a cautious sense of optimism, as leaders from the United States and Iran entered a particularly crucial, hours-long round of negotiations over Tehran's nuclear work.
Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told journalists outside the palace after several hours of talks that he was "very optimistic" a deal was within reach. The talks continued just five days ahead of the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, and fifteen days out from a deadline for the parties to reach a political framework agreement.
Iranian journalists here, traveling with the delegation, predicted an early success for their country before celebrations kick off for the Persian new year. But significant gaps— technical in nature and political in practice— still face the two major sides in this negotiation, represented here by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif left midday for Brussels, where he was to meet with his European Union counterparts over the status of the talks.
"We will finally get something," the Iranian minister said as he left the palace, without elaborating.
He may have been referring to one of a host of remaining sticking points standing in the way of an historic agreement that would temporarily cap, restrict, monitor and partially roll back its nuclear program, in exchange for sanctions relief.
US officials acknowledge that time frames within a deal, including the duration of certain restrictions and the pace with which sanctions will be lifted, continue to hamper the talks.
Iran wants both the EU and the United Nations Security Council to lift its sanctions without delay once a deal is agreed upon, while the US— as of this weekend— had not agreed to swift UN relief, without demonstrable progress from Iran measured in years of adherence to strict international monitoring of its nuclear work.
That possibility is unacceptable to Iran, as is Washington's attempt to gain access for inspectors to Tehran's military facilities. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency has accused Iran of developing a nuclear program with possible military dimensions.
The duration of the deal itself, as well, has not been finalized, US officials say. Kerry has denied claims in the media, as well as by Israeli officials, that the US is willing to let the deal "sunset" after a decade.
Also on Monday, The Los Angeles Times
reported that the Obama administration has built massive replicas of Iran's nuclear sites in top-secret facilities across the US, in order to best determine how to limit their program through negotiations.
The US plans on declassifying the technique in order to convince a skeptical American public of its diligence in reaching the deal, sources told the paper.
Kerry, alongside US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and chief US negotiator with Iran Wendy Sherman, are expected to stay in Lausanne through the week until Nowruz begins on March 20. The secretary of state is also due back in Washington for meetings with Afghanistan President Aschraf Ghani on March 22.
He plans on returning to Switzerland afterwards ahead of the March 31 deadline for a political framework, his team says, alongside his counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran.