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US, Iran Envoys Hold Talks in Lausanne as Deadline Looms

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are seen before resuming talks over Iran's nuclear programme in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 16, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are seen before resuming talks over Iran's nuclear programme in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 16, 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began a new round of talks with his Iranian counterpart Monday in the Swiss city of Lausanne as an end-of-March deadline loomed to reach agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear program.

Reports suggest that after months of talks, Western powers and Iran are getting closer to reaching a framework agreement on Tehran's nuclear program. Just how close, however, is unclear. Negotiators have set a March 31 deadline. That's the date Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are working against after beginning several days of discussions in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Speaking to CBS News before traveling to Switzerland, Kerry said it was important to get not just any deal, but the right deal.

"If [Iran's nuclear program] is peaceful, let's get it done. And let's hope that in the next days that will be possible," he said.

Zarif said all sides needed to keep talking this week to see what could be achieved.

“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,” he told the Iranian news agency IRNA on Monday.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday there were obstacles to overcome with Tehran to reach a deal but hoped to make progress at meetings with her Iranian and European counterparts on Monday evening in Brussels.

She declined to give details but said that all issues were being discussed and that all issues were linked.

Kerry said Sunday that the remaining obstacles are largely political rather than technical.

"There are clearly some differences that still rest on a technical judgment," Kerry told CBS television's Face the Nation program. "But by and large, most of the differences now are political decisions... to fulfill the promise of proving to the world that a program is peaceful."

In Brussels on Monday, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said key differences remain. European Union foreign ministers were meeting with Zarif later in the day.

"We're closer than we were, but we've still got a long way to go. So there are areas where we've made progress, areas where we have yet to make any progress, but I think the fact that we're here talking shows the commitment on all sides to reach agreement," he said.

For his part, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged all sides to seize the opportunity to reach a deal, after a years-long standoff. Tehran argues its nuclear program is for completely peaceful purposes, but many countries believe it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

The overall goal is for an agreement to constrain Iran's nuclear program for a decade and gradually ease international sanctions against Tehran.

The Associated Press news agency reports that instead of striking a deal by the end of the month, the two sides might only announce that enough progress has been made to keep on talking. There are a number of unresolved issues, including on Iran's centrifuges, international inspections and how long sanctions would remain in place.


There are also skeptics on both sides, including among many Republican members of Congress in the United States. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement against the talks, telling CNN that President Barack Obama was on the cusp of a "very bad deal" with Tehran.

Kerry said he was unsure if an open letter sent by McConnell and 46 other Republican U.S. senators last week to Iranian leaders had jeopardized the future of the ongoing negotiations. The group warned the next U.S. president could revoke a deal at any time; a statement the secretary of state challenged.

Earlier this month, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Iran's commitments to date do not go far enough. And in Iran, a number of clerics and military leaders oppose an agreement as well.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.