Kerry Cancels Return to US as Iran Talks Deadline Looms

assetContent (1)US Secretary of State skips event in Boston to ensure deal on Iran’s nuclear program is agreed by March 31.
March 29, 2015
Displayed with permission from Al Jazeera

US Secretary of State John Kerry has cancelled plans to return to the United States for an event honoring his late Senate colleague Edward Kennedy in order to remain at the ongoing Iran nuclear talks in Switzerland. The State Department said Kerry had been looking forward to participating in the dedication of the Kennedy Institute in Boston with the family of the late Massachusetts senator on Sunday and Monday but that “given the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Switzerland, the secretary regrets he will not be able to share this special time with them in person”.

Kerry’s decision to stay comes as the talks approach a March 31 deadline for the outline of a final deal to be negotiated by the end of June. US and some European officials have spoken of obstacles they have faced in general terms, citing Iranian resistance to limits on research and development and demands for more speedy and broad relief from international sanctions.

Al Jazeera’s James Bays

The frantic last push to get an Iran nuclear framework deal is underway.

Foreign ministers from France, Germany and China have joined US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif.

Ministers from UK and Russia are on their way.

Meetings have continued all day and late into the night, even though they lost an hour because of the time change from daylight saving hours.

Iranian officials are sounding confident, but most observers believe there are still likely to be long difficult negotiations ahead.

Amid the grueling schedule some are catching what moments they can to relax. John Kerry went on another long bike ride late on Saturday afternoon, while Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi surprised reporters and Swiss police with a jog beside Lake Geneva.

Follow Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays for the latest updates  @Baysontheroad

With just three days to go, negotiators were meeting multiple times in various formats. Kerry has been in discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday. The foreign ministers of France and Germany arrived on Saturday and their counterparts from Britain, China and Russia are due to arrive on Sunday.

‘Serious work’ remains

The State Department said late on Saturday that “serious but difficult work” remained for negotiators and that the pace of discussions is expected to intensify as “we assess if an understanding is possible”.

Meanwhile, Zarif said on his Facebook page late on Saturday that the talks had become more complicated with the arrival of more foreign ministers. “We have made progress towards an acceptable solution, but several important questions still remain,” he said.

Progress has been made on the main issue: The future of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme. It can produce material for energy, science and medicine but also for the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

The sides have tentatively agreed that Iran would run no more than 6,000 centrifuges at its main enrichment site for at least 10 years, with slowly easing restrictions over the next five years on that programme and others Tehran could use to make a bomb.

The fate of a fortified underground bunker previously used for uranium enrichment also appears closer to resolution.

Officials have said that the US may allow Iran to run hundreds of centrifuges at the Fordo bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites which would be subject to international inspections, the Associated Press news agency has reported.

But questions persist as to the fate of the economic penalties against Iran, and Tehran continues to negotiate for fewer constraints of developing advanced centrifuges.

Six world powers – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – have been involved in the negotiations seeking to scale back Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The West suspects Iran’s nuclear programme is intended for military purposes, but Tehran says it is meant for power generation.

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