Iran and world powers weighed how long to extend talks that already have missed their deadline without producing an accord to end the 12-year standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
The negotiations in the Swiss town of Lausanne are still making progress and Secretary of State John Kerry will stay until at least Thursday morning, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. His Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif called on “all our negotiating partners to seize this opportunity which may not be repeated.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who left the talks in the early hours of Wednesday and said he’d only come back “if useful,” rejoined them as well, and talks were under way past midnight. The U.S. won’t “arbitrarily and abruptly” halt the discussions if progress is being made, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington.
The goal for diplomats is an accord that would ease Iran’s international isolation and reduce the potential for tensions over its nuclear ambitions to escalate into war. A swirl of claims and counterclaims surrounding the talks that were supposed to end Tuesday suggests participants are at once pursuing a deal and positioning themselves for the possibility that they won’t reach one.
Oil rose on Wednesday, with Brent crude adding 3.1 percent at 3:20 p.m. in New York. That snapped a three-day decline that was partly driven by speculation a deal would let Iranian crude enter world markets.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond earlier said the sides had a “broad framework of understanding,” with some key issues still left to resolve. Envoys to the negotiations are “working hard to finalize a deal, a good deal,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Twitter.
The negotiators have given themselves until the end of June for a final agreement that would lay out in detail the steps Iran must take to restrict its nuclear activities, and the sanctions relief it would get in exchange.
A senior Iranian negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, suggested his nation had showed new flexibility over the easing of United Nations sanctions, an issue that’s been an impediment to a deal. Speaking in Persian to state television, he suggested movement from Iran’s longstanding position that UN sanctions must be removed at once, a demand that has made a deal impossible so far.
Iran needs any deal to cancel “all economic, financial, oil and banking” sanctions “in the first step,” he said. “Other sanctions should fit in an organized framework.”
The UN sanctions restrict proliferation-sensitive technology and military trade, and Security Council members have said they could only be lifted in a phased approach, over several years.
Araghchi also said that Iran doesn’t expect an accord by Wednesday evening but rather “an announcement on progress in negotiations.”
Even if there’s no accord this week, the interim agreement the sides reached in November 2013 will run until July 1. That deal capped Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Curbs on oil sales, which have slashed exports in the country with the world’s fourth-biggest reserves, remain in place.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch critic of the negotiations, renewed his opposition Wednesday, saying that concessions being discussed in Lausanne would endanger his country.