World leaders' talks with Iran seeking a nuclear deal continue to drag on a day after a self-imposed deadline. But French Foreign Minister Fabius has said that the negotiators are "a few meters from the finishing line."
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, urged the international community to "seize the moment" in marathon talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Still, a framework deal remained elusive into the early hours of Thursday morning. But in a potentially hopeful sign, France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, returned to Lausanne overnight - after previously flying back to Paris because of progress being too slow.
"We are a few meters from the finishing line, but it's always the last meters that are the most difficult. We will try and cross them," Fabius said upon his return.
As in the early hours of Wednesday, negotiations continued on towards dawn on Thursday, with US Secretary of State John Kerry particularly busy.
By 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT/UTC), however, it seemed all involved required some rest.
Kerry's back-to-back talks
A US official confirmed that Kerry held four hours of late-night talks with his Iranian counterpart and EU deputy foreign policy commissioner Helga Schmid. Following these negotiations, Kerry moved straight on to a meeting with France's Fabius and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Steinmeier said he would stay in Lausanne at least until Thursday morning, predicting late on Wednesday night that a clearer picture might emerge by then.
Iran's Zarif said the government in Tehran had shown that it wants "an entente" with the world.
"Iran has shown its readiness to engage with dignity, and it's time for our negotiating partners to seize the moment," Zarif told reporters.
Only the first hurdle
Theoretically, the self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement was midnight on Wednesday, April 1. World powers are seeking a "political framework" agreement with Iran - a precursor for a planned final deal by the end of June.
The process, some 12 years in the making, is an attempt to secure non-proliferation pledges from Tehran in return for the loosening of international sanctions.
According to the Associated Press, the language of a planned joint statement has proved the sticking point. AP reported that Iran was seeking a more general paper with relatively few specifics, something that might prove a difficult sell for Obama in the Republican-dominated Congress, or in future talks with key allies Israel.
The Republican House Speaker John Boehner visited Jerusalem on Wednesday.
msh/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)