After failing to meet a self-imposed deadline for a deal on Iran's nuclear program, negotiators have said there is much goodwill but differences remain. The atmosphere seems cautiously optimistic as talks continue.
Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program continued in Switzerland on Wednesday, past the self-imposed deadline, as diplomats agreed that enough compromise was possible for a preliminary deal. Despite this, delegates of the P5+1 group, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, and Iran sent conflicting messages to the public about the amount of progress made.
Moscow and Berlin struck a positive note, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov going so far as to say that the global powers had reached "an agreement in principle on all key aspects" of the final deal before he left the Swiss town of Lausanne.
"There is progress to be seen, an agreement is possible but nothing is yet certain," a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters in Berlin.
"An agreement must stop Iran's path to a nuclear bomb in a verifiable, long-term and credible way," she said adding there would not be a "bad deal."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was more cautious, saying some "clear solutions" had been found but hesitated to confirm that any breakthrough had been made. In a rare public statement, the Chinese delegation warned its counterparts that if no preliminary deal was reached before the final deadline in June, "all previous efforts will be wasted," and urged the other groups to be willing to meet each other half way.
Philip Hammond, the UK's foreign secretary, said the talks had to reach past the deadline because some of the issues are "quite detailed and technical," and thus may take all day to clarify.
A preliminary deal would end a 12-year standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran has insisted exclusively serves civilian purposes while the West fears it could be used to develop nuclear weapons.
"[The Iranians and Americans] are reluctant because they are mistrustful of the other side and not sure the other side will deliver on its promises," Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group told DW.
The few points of contention that remained before this round of talks were the length of the deal - Iran wants it kept short so that it can renegotiate later - and the speed at which painful economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic will be rolled back.
The White House had warned again Tuesday that the military option to keep Tehran from acquiring nuclear arms remained open.
If Iran continues to be unwilling to allow inspectors full access to their uranium enrichment facilities to reassure the world that its nuclear program is peaceful "then we'll have to walk away from the negotiating table and consider what other options may be available to us," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Both parties understand that if negotiations fail, the diplomatic process would be replaced by a cycle of escalation, Vaez said. "The Iranians will ratchet up their nuclear program and on the other side the West will ratchet up sanctions, and we will inch closer and closer to the brink of a military confrontation."
Should the negotiators be able to reach a deal, Vaez said it would be a triumph for diplomacy.
"It would be a prime example of how patient, persistent and principled diplomacy can resolve very complex conundrums without a bullet being fired," he said.
es/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters) Additional reporting: Matthias von Hein