Iran nuclear talks at stalemate as deadline approaches – Telegraph.co.uk

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waits before a meeting on Iran’s nuclear programme (AP)

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, then left Lausanne, saying that he would return if there was a “realistic” prospect of an agreement.

Mr Kerry and Mr Zarif met only once on Monday as participants in the plenary session. Their once regular flow of bilateral meetings has dried up: the two ministers have not talked one-on-one since Saturday.

A diplomat in Lausanne described the negotiations as “very tough”, adding: “There are still significant differences of opinion. People are still playing hardball.”

Three key issues are believed to stand in the way of an agreement that would resolve one of the Middle East’s most perilous crises.

Iran wants all sanctions to be lifted the moment a final deal is signed; the US prefers a gradual easing of the pressure.

Iran is prepared to limits its uranium enrichment programme – and associated research into advanced centrifuges – for a maximum of ten years. America and its allies are holding out for a longer period of restrictions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (AP)

The US, for its part, wants United Nations sanctions to be restored automatically if Iran were to break an agreement. Russia and China want this decision to go before the Security Council, where they both wield vetoes.

So far, these differences are proving intractable. “One cannot say there has been considerable progress in this round,” said Abbas Araqchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, in an interview with Tasnim news agency. “We may find out tomorrow [Tuesday] that reaching solutions isn’t possible and talks need to proceed in another way.”

Diplomats cannot tell whether the lack of progress on Monday reflected calculated brinkmanship before the deadline – or a genuine deadlock.

The negotiations with Iran are handled by the “P5 plus 1” contact group, consisting of the Security Council’s five permanent members – America, Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany. All of the “P5 plus 1” have to be present for a deal to be signed, so Mr Lavrov’s absence rules out an agreement unless he returns.

Delegates are grimly preparing for the talks to last for every hour until the deadline of midnight on Tuesday. “Those negotiations are going to go down to the wire,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, adding that President Barack Obama was being kept up to date.

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