In what were described by one media outlet as "the most promising" comments to date regarding the chances of world powers reaching an agreement with Iran over its civilian nuclear program, top Iranian officials expressed optimism over progress made in Switzerland on Tuesday even as some "technical issues" on a final deal still remain.
As Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif concluded a second day of high-level talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss town of Lausanne, Iran's top nuclear official Ali Akhbar Salehi, also present at the talks, indicated important progress was made on each of the major issues and expressed hope that settling the final details could be achieved by a self-imposed deadline later this year.
"We have agreed on ninety percent of the technical issues," Salehi was quoted as saying, though he indicated "one or two issues" remained open and required further discussion. "Of course, there are many details," he said. "But I can say that, as a whole, I am optimistic."
According to a new CNN/ORC poll published Tuesday, a majority of Americans approve of the ongoing diplomatic efforts being made between Iran and the P5+1 nations which, in addition to the U.S., include the U.K., France, Russia, China, and Germany.
Though foreign ministers from those other countries were not present for Tuesday's meeting, they may travel to subsequent sessions on Wednesday or possibly later in the week.
Speaking to Iranian news agency IRNA, Zarif added, "On some issues we are closer to a solution and based on this we can say solutions are within reach. At the same time, we are apart on some issues."
A U.S. official who spoke with reporters under condition of anonymity said the talks were fruitful but was slightly more reserved in terms of characterizing the exact nature of what was accomplished. "We have definitely made progress in terms of identifying technical options for each of the major areas," the unnamed U.S. official said. "There is no way around it. We still have a ways to go ... But even within this space, we have some tough issues to address."
As the Middle East Eye reports:
The accord, due to be finalized by July, would involve Iran, which denies wanting a nuclear bomb, agreeing to scale down its nuclear activities to adhere to strict limits in return for relief from sanctions suffocating its economy.
If they manage it and the accord holds, both sides hope it will end a 12-year standoff and potentially help normalise Iran's international relations at a particularly volatile time in the Middle East.
Both sides must agree to a timetable to relieve the spider's web of UN, US and EU sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years, tied to certain "milestones" and staggered over whatever duration the accord will stipulate.
In Washington, D.C. last week, 47 Republican Senators set off a firestorm of criticism after they sent a letter to Iranian leaders warning that any deal reached by Tehran and the Obama administration could be nullified by a future U.S. president.