Iran and six world powers tried to clear the major obstacles in nuclear negotiations on Sunday, but senior officials warned that attempts to achieve a preliminary deal in the next two days could still fail.
The talks gravitated around compromises on the numbers of centrifuges that Iran could operate to enrich uranium, but also its nuclear enrichment work for medical research.
Israel, a country which feels threatened by the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, announced the details of a possible agreement which emerges from the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, were even worse than it feared.
The United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China want at least a 10-year suspension of Iran’s most delicate nuclear work. Iran, which denies it wants develop a nuclear weapons capability, is requesting an end to international sanctions that are hurting its economy.
Officials warned that important disagreements still remain over several points in the talks. Even so, they added that in recent rounds of discussions the two sides have been getting closer to a preliminary deal that could be released in a brief document of several pages. Its signing is not yet assured.
According to some officials, Iran had shown a willingness to reduce the number of centrifuges it uses to less than 6,000, a step which will slow its programme. Also, Tehran accepted to send most of its enriched uranium stockpiles in Russia, for storage.
The United States, France, Great Britain and Germany are willing to allow Iran to conduct closely-monitored and limited enrichment-related work for medical purposes at an underground facility.
“Everything could still fall apart,” a Western official told Reuters. He mentioned that the talks could drag on to Tuesday, which is the self-imposed deadline for a general agreement.
A bottleneck point of the discussions is Iran’s demand to continue research with a new generation of advanced centrifuges, which can purify uranium more quickly and in greater quantities for use in nuclear power plants. If the uranium is very highly enriched it could be used in weapons.
Another problem is the speed of lifting United Nations sanctions on Iran. A US official explained there were unresolved issues on other key point, but expected those to be fixed if the main sticking points are resolved.
“We’re hopeful, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius. His words were met with hostility from Israel, which is believed to be the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear arsenal.
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