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Iran Nuke Talks Hit Crunch Time        03/30 06:17

   Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program entered a critical phase on Monday 
with differences still remaining less than two days before a deadline for the 
outline of an agreement.

   LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program 
entered a critical phase on Monday with differences still remaining less than 
two days before a deadline for the outline of an agreement.

   With the March 31 target fast approaching, the top diplomats from the five 
permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and Iran were meeting 
to try to bridge remaining gaps and hammer out the framework deal that would be 
the basis for a final accord to be reached by the end of June.

   U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad 
Javad Zarif, have been meeting in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday in 
an intense effort to reach a political understanding on terms that would curb 
Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

   Officials say the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering 
demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on 
how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms. In addition 
to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the 
timing and scope of sanctions removal, the officials said.

   And, in a sign that a deal is unlikely on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister 
Sergey Lavrov will leave the talks, just a day after arriving, to return to 
Moscow for previously planned meetings, according to his spokeswoman Maria 
Zarakhova. Lavrov will return to Lausanne on Tuesday if there is a realistic 
chance for a deal, she said.

   White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Sunday it was up to the Iranians 
to make the choice to accept what has been presented to them.

   By accepting the restrictions, the Iranians would "live up to their rhetoric 
that they are not trying to acquire a nuclear weapon," he said in Washington on 
ABC's "This Week."

   The officials in Lausanne said the sides were advancing on limits to aspects 
of Iran's program to enrich uranium, which can be used to make the core of a 
nuclear warhead.

   Tehran has said it is willing to address concerns about its stockpiles of 
enriched uranium, although it has denied that will involve shipping it out of 
the country, as some western officials have said. One official said on Monday 
that Iran might deal with the issue by diluting its stocks to a level that 
would not be weapons grade.

   A senior State Department official said that shipping the stockpile is one 
of the "viable options that have been under discussion for months ... but 
resolution is still being discussed."

   Uranium enrichment has been the chief concern in over more than a decade of 
international attempts to cap Iran's nuclear programs. But a Western official 
said the main obstacles to a deal were no longer enrichment-related but instead 
the type and length of restrictions on Tehran's research and development of 
advanced centrifuges and the pace of sanctions-lifting.

   Both demanded anonymity --- the State Department official in line with U.S. 
briefing rules and the Western official because he was not authorized to 
discuss the emerging deal.

   Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to 
keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000. The 
officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer.

   Tehran says it wants to enrich only for energy, science, industry and 
medicine. But many countries fear Iran could use the technology to make 
weapons-grade uranium.


(KA)


 
 
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