Foreign ministers from six nations plus Iran have begun a last round of talks a day before a deadline on a deal over Iran's nuclear program. The top diplomats were cautiously optimistic ahead of the intense negotiations.
Under intense pressure to close a deal one day ahead of a self-imposed deadline, top diplomats from Iran and six world powers (known as the P5+1) met in Lausanne, Switzerland on Monday in the first such joint meeting since November.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany seek to ease concerns about Iran's nuclear program, while the Islamic republic wants the West to roll back sanctions that have isolated the country and hurt its economy.
The foreign ministers of all six nations, the US, Russia, Germany, Britain, China, France, and Iran, said there is a chance of succeeding by the Tuesday deadline despite the significant obstacles.
Britain's Philip Hammond, the last of the foreign ministers to arrive, said he and his colleagues "believe a deal can be done."
"But it has to be a deal which puts the bomb beyond Iran's reach," he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier canceled travel plans on Sunday in the hope of securing the preliminary deal ahead of a more comprehensive agreement to be made in June.
Steinmeier called the talks in Switzerland the "endgame" of a decades-long process that has stopped and restarted several times.
Concessions from Tehran
Tehran appeared willing to make concessions, such as shipping the enriched uranium it produces to Russia, a change from previous demands to be able to keep a small amount in stock, one official said, though this was contradicted by Iran's official IRNA news agency.
Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding it be allowed to keep 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium to 6,000, and now officials have said they may be ready to accept even fewer.
The main dispute involves the length of the agreement. Iran would like to see a total removal of all caps on its nuclear activities after 10 years, while the other powers insist on a progressive rollback after a decade. Limits on Iran's research and development of centrifuges were also unresolved, Western officials said.
The Islamic Republic also insists that UN sanctions be scrapped as soon as the deal comes into effect, as the punitive measures have isolated Iran diplomatically.
"This is very important to us for political and legal reasons," Iran's deputy foreign minister said on Sunday night.
One official who spoke with the Associated Press (AP) said there was also a dispute between the American and Russian delegations over reimposing penalties should Tehran renege on any commitments.
es/lw (AP, AFP, dpa)