Negotiations between Iran and major powers are very close to produce a 2-3 page framework agreement with specific numbers to form the basis of a long-term nuclear settlement deal which aims at ending a 12-year standoff between Tehran and the West.
A senior Iranian official spoke to Reuters with condition of anonymity and said, "The sides are very, very close to the final step and it could be signed or agreed and announced verbally." The sides had previously announced a March 31 deadline for the framework agreement.
However, officials from Western and Iranian sides remained cautious as negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China known as “six powers” still continued and that a final text is not agreed upon as key details were still being hotly debated.
The main negotiator the United States and Iran have been discussing through US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for days and foreign ministers from other members of six-powers are expected to arrive in Lausanne, Switzerland over the weekend.
A possible framework agreement is expected to include key numbers about important technical aspects of a future deal such as number of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to operate, amount of uranium reserves Iran would keep and level of nuclear enrichment as well as details on the way of lifting sanctions levied on Iran by the West.
Another key number, the duration of the agreement which officials say would be a double digit number, is also expected to be included in the document.
The negotiations have been continuing for nearly 18 months with the goal of reaching a deal with Iran about its nuclear program which would prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting sanctions that is crippling the country’s economy for years imposed by the West.
The two sides will continue to negotiate after the framework agreement to reach a comprehensive deal by June 30 including all technical details.
The officials cautiously say, despite being a step forward, a preliminary deal by the end of March does not guarantee a final deal in the summer.
The main disagreement between points the sides have raised have been number and development of nuclear centrifuges and timing for lifting of the sanctions.
Iran currently has 10,000 centrifuges but the six powers want the number to be significantly cut.
Iran wants the sanctions by the US, the European Union and the UN to be lifted very quickly while the six powers demand a gradual process tied to a schedule.