Talks in Lausanne, Switzerland between several world powers and Iran continued on Monday in the hope of reaching a nuclear deal with Tehran.
The P5+1 group (the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany) have been trying to reach an political agreement with Iran for over 18 months and have a self-imposed deadline of March 31 to achieve it. Several deadlines to reach such an agreement have been missed in the past and the Obama administration has stated it does now want to extend the deadline again.
If a political agreement is achieved, the international community is then hoping to work out the technical details by June 30.
The West accuses Iran of developing a convert nuclear weapons program, using its civilian nuclear program to cover it up. Tehran denies this and says its program is only for peaceful purposes. The P5+1 group want to remove the possibility of Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb in exchange for an easing of international sanctions on the country. Negotiators have said that any agreement must include a break-out period of at least one year for Iran should it want to acquire enough material to fuel a nuclear bomb.
With talks nearing the deadline, several key sticking points remain between Iran and the P5+1 negotiating group. They include how any centrifuges in Iran would be allowed to keep in order to enrich uranium, what kind of research and development Iran would be permitted to conduct after the first 10-year period of any deal and how quickly sanctions on the country would be lifted. Any deal agreed to would likely last at least 15 years.
An important point for Iran is how fast sanctions will be lifted. Its economy has been hard hit over the past several years due to the severe, and in many areas, the crippling international sanctions the international community has placed on it. Any easing or lifting of sanctions would be a boost for the struggling and closed off economy and allow its oil back on the international market.
As negotiate continued, a diplomat told Reuters that a key point of contention for Iran involved what would happen after the first 10 years of any agreement. “It seems that we have an accord for the first 10 years, but with regard to the Iranians the question of what happens after is complicated,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The New York Times reported on Sunday evening that Iranian officials had backed away from a key part of any potential agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country. Tehran had previously appeared to agree to send a large portion of its uranimy stockpile to Russia.
Removing the threat of an Iranian nuclear program has been a key priority for the P5+1 negotiating group. Regarding any deal, the U.K. foreign minster said it “has to be a deal which puts the bomb beyond Iran’s reach.” he added. “There can’t be any compromise about that,” Phillip Hammond said.
Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has been leading an anti-deal push that culminated with his speech before a joint session of Congress in Washington on March 3. On Sunday, he said the forthcoming deal “bears out all of our fears, and even more than that”. Congressional Republicans, who invited Netanyahu to Washington, also remain very skeptical of a deal and have threatened to impose additional sanctions on Iran should negotiations fail. Many members of Congress are also pushing for an opportunity to vote on any final deal, something the White House has rejected.