Iran Agrees to Framework of Nuclear Deal –

by NewsStand

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Iran and European nations said here tonight that they had reached a surprisingly specific and comprehensive general understanding about next steps in limiting Tehran’s nuclear program, but officials said that some important issues needed to be resolved before a final agreement in June that would allow the Obama administration to assert it has cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.

Both Germany’s foreign office and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said that key parameters of a framework for a final accord had been reached, with the details to be negotiated by June 30. But Western diplomats cautioned that on several of the key issues that were debated here for the past eight days between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, there were still significant differences.

Nevertheless, there was no mistaking the upbeat mood surrounding the announcement. “We have stopped a cycle that is not in the interest of anybody,” an exuberant Mr. Zarif said at a news conference after the announcement.

 Secretary of State John Kerry and Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, arrived at a news conference on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski

Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said in a statement, This is well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago and a good basis for what I believe could be a very good deal.” Mr. Kerry is scheduled to give a news conference, at which he is expected to provide some details of the American understanding of what was negotiated.

According to European officials, roughly 5,000 centrifuges will remain spinning enriched uranium at the main nuclear site at Natanz, about half the number currently running. The giant underground enrichment site at Fordo — which Israeli and some American officials fear is impervious to bombing — will be partly converted to advanced nuclear research and the production of medical isotopes. Foreign scientists will be present. There will be no fissile material present that could be used to make a bomb.

A major reactor at Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, would operate on a limited basis that would not provide enough fuel for a bomb.

In return the European Union and the United States would begin to lift sanctions, as Iran complied. At a news conference after the announcement, Mr. Zarif said that essentially all sanctions would be lifted after the final agreement is signed.

The announcement was made at a university in Lausanne, with Mr. Kerry standing with his fellow foreign ministers. But the first statement came from the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Mr. Zarif. “Today we have taken a decisive step. We have reached solutions on key parameters of a comprehensive political solution.”

President Obama was scheduled to make an announcement at the White House, hoping that the detail announced here tonight — more comprehensive than had been expected — would hold off congressional action to place additional sanctions on Iran. But it is unclear whether the White House will try to find a way for Congress to indicate its approval or disapproval of whatever agreement emerges on June 30, assuming the final accord can be reached.

Western diplomats were quick to warn that there was more to do. “The fine detail of any deal will be very important, Mr. Hammond said, “in particular specifics of oversight measures and mechanisms for handling U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

For example, it was unclear how and whether Iran would be compelled to answer the International Atomic Energy Agency’s outstanding questions about “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s program in the past.

Mr. Zarif, speaking in Lausanne, said “none of those measures require closing any of our facilities,” something he said the “proud people” of Iran would never allow. He said, for example, that centrifuges would remain in the underground Fordo site, but that no enrichment of uranium would take place there.

It was the kind of careful balance that marks the deal: Allowing Iran to keep its facilties running, but under restrictions that would reach President Obama’s goal that it would take more than a year to produce a weapon’s worth of material.

 From left, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini;  Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister;  British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond; and Secretary of State John Kerry at a news conference on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone, via Associated Press

Still, Mr. Zarif said “we are still some time away from being where we want to be,” suggesting that the negotiation of the details would be difficult.

Just minutes before the announcements, Mr. Zarif sent out a Twitter message saying the negotiators had “found solutions” and were, “Ready to start drafting immediately.” Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, sent a similar tweet.

Obama administration officials have insisted that the current round of talks here produce more than a general understanding. They want a “quantitative dimension” — that is, specific limits on Iran’s nuclear program that the White House can cite to push back against congressional moves for additional sanctions.

President Obama had set March 31 as a deadline for reaching a political accord to define the main terms of a final, comprehensive agreement due by the end of June.

The Obama administration has extended that self-imposed deadline. But at the same time the White House has warned publicly that it is prepared to step back from the diplomacy if it is clear that the initial accord cannot be reached.

An all-night round of talks ended at 6 a.m. local time on Thursday, or midnight Eastern time. Mr. Zarif noted that some diplomats had not slept, and fatigue was visible on the faces of some aides who straggled into the breakfast room of the luxury hotel here where the talks are being held under tight security.

Shortly before 11 a.m., the deliberations resumed as Mr. Kerry met with Ms. Mogherini and the chief diplomats of Britain, France and Germany. Russia and China, whose foreign minsters have left the talks, were represented by lower-ranking officials.

Mr. Zarif said the purpose of the meeting would be to assess the “solutions” that Iran had discussed with the Americans and their negotiating partners overnight.

The form of any understanding with Iran has been at issue for weeks.

But there have been other complicated questions, including how quickly sanctions on Iran might be eased and what nuclear research would be permitted on advanced centrifuges.

An idea to suspend certain United Nations sanctions temporarily but to arrange for them to automatically “snap back” into place if Iran does not fulfill its commitments under a nuclear accord has also prompted concerns from Russia that such a procedure might dilute the authority of its Security Council veto power.

For weeks, some critics have complained that the March 31 deadline the Obama administration had set for a preliminary accord might diminish its leverage in the talks by adding to the pressure on American negotiators to make last-minute concessions.

Iran Agrees to Framework of Nuclear Deal –