US and Iranian negotiators meet in Lausanne for nuclear talks.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LAUSANNE/JERUSALEM - Iran and world powers negotiating in Switzerland to reach a framework agreement to cap, restrict, monitor and roll back the Iranian nuclear program are converging on agreement, a senior US official said Sunday.
The official added, however, that their remained a number of sticking points to reaching a deal, including technical research and development matters and the length of the deal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry began meetings early with his Iranian and European counterparts. The foreign ministers of Russia and the United Kingdom were scheduled to arrive later in the day.
In a significant development in the talks, several officials told Reuters Tehran had indicated a willingness to accept fewer than 6,000 nuclear centrifuges and sending most of its enriched uranium stockpiles for storage in Russia.
Western powers, on the other hand, were considering the idea of allowing Iran to conduct limited, closely monitored enrichment-related work for medical purposes at an underground facility called Fordow, the officials added on condition of anonymity.
Iran had originally insisted on keeping in operation the nearly 10,000 centrifuges it currently uses, but said in November that Washington indicated it could accept around 6,000. Iranian officials say they had been pushing for 6,500-7,000.
The officials said all parts of an emerging nuclear deal were interrelated.
"Everything could still fall apart," a Western official told Reuters, adding that the talks could drag on to Tuesday, the self-imposed deadline for a framework agreement.
Another official said it was "more or less reality," but that nothing was set in stone yet.
A main sticking point is Iran's demand that it continue with research into advanced centrifuges. The machines can purify uranium for use in nuclear power plants or, if very highly enriched, in weapons.
Another unresolved question is over the speed of removing some of the United Nations sanctions on Tehran.
The six world powers negotiating with Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, are seeking at least a 10-year suspension of its most sensitive nuclear work. The dispute dates back more than a decade and has fueled fears of a new Middle East war.
The negotiators meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland seek to reach an understanding by March 31, which will frame a comprehensive nuclear agreement concluded by the end of June. A senior US official said it was highly doubtful that there would be an extension of the political framework talks beyond the March 31 deadline.
The official said that the form of the agreement, whether it would be oral or written, had not yet been decided.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting
that the nuclear agreement between the world powers and Iran apparently emerging from the talks in Lausanne confirm all of Israel's concerns, “and even more than that."
At the same time that the talks are taking place in Switzerland, he said, Iran's proxies in Yemen are in the process of occupying large segments of Yemen and trying to gain control of the strategic Ba'ad el-Mandeb waterway which is critical to the free flow of the world's oil.
"After the Beirut-Damascus-Baghdad axis, Iran is carrying out a pincer movement from the south to take over and occupy the entire Middle East. The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity and it must be stopped,” he said.
A US official told The Jerusalem Post
in response that Netanyahu's position was well known and that they continue to brief the Israeli leader on the negotiations with Iran.
Before the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu met with visiting Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, and spoke over the weekend with the Democratic leader in the Senate Harry Reid, discussing Israel's deep concern about the emerging agreement. He said that they both spoke of “firm, strong and continuing” bipartisan support for Israel.