Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program resumed in Switzerland today but were almost immediately beset by competing claims, just hours after diplomats abandoned a March 31 deadline to reach a deal outline and agreed to press on. Eager to avoid a collapse in the discussions, the US and others claimed late yesterday that enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering. But the foreign ministers of China, France, and Russia all departed Lausanne overnight, although the significance of their absence was not clear, and the prospects for agreement remained uncertain. Iran's deputy foreign minister said lead negotiators would release a joint statement by the end of the day declaring that progress had been made but containing no specifics. A senior Western official quickly pushed back, saying that nothing about a statement had been decided and that Iran's negotiating partners would not accept a document that contained no details.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, nuclear talks with Iran have now passed their intended deadline three times in less than a year—and the paper calls the three aforementioned overnight departures "a sign that a breakthrough wasn't imminent." But senior Western officials are still saying they're hopeful they can do what's needed to finalize the framework that would carry them toward a comprehensive deal by June 30, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zari pledged to stay "as long as necessary" to clear the remaining hurdles. The BBC sees four:
- How long the restrictions last: Iran wants limits completely lifted after a decade; the six world powers involved want to lift them gradually after that decade mark.
- When sanctions will be suspended: Iran wants relief quickly; the six again favor a gradual approach.
- What will happen if Iran doesn't comply with the deal: UN sanctions, and quickly. Russia is apparently on board but wants to retain its Security Council veto rights.
- Last but not least, centrifuges: Iran wants to be able to enrich more uranium, more quickly.
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