Iran daily: Tehran upbeat but US cautious in nuclear talks

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif lead US-Iran talks on Tuesday

Iran and the US offered contrasting portrayals of the state of nuclear talks in Switzerland on Tuesday, with few details coming out of a critical set of meetings.

The two sides have been carrying out political and technical discussions since Sunday, including negotiations between Iranian Foreign Minister and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Iran pointed to advance on Tuesday in technical aspects of an agreement, sought by an informal deadline of March 31 — set by the Americans — and a formal cut-off of July 1. The head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said almost all points had been worked out in talks with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Salehi said there was one remaining “point of difference”, which would be considered in a meeting on Tuesday afternoon. He would not confirm if the issue was around Tehran’s research and development of uranium centrifuges, which it wants to continue despite limits on its enrichment and uranium stockpile held inside Iran.

Earlier this week, unnamed diplomats indicated that the two sides were debating the future status of the Fordoo enrichment plant. The US insists that it is restricted to being a “research facility”, while Iran wants to retain some operating centrifuges in the plant, opened in 2009 to supplement activists at the Islamic Republic’s first enrichment complex at Natanz.

A “senior American official” was far more cautious:

We have definitely made progress in terms of identifying technical options for each of the major areas.

[But] there is no way around it: We still have a ways to go,” the official added. “Even within this space, we have some tough issues to address.

Neither Iran nor the US offered further comment on Tuesday on another key issue, the lifting of American-led sanctions upon completion of a deal. The Islamic Republic is insisting on the quick removal of restrictions, but the White House repeated on Monday that the process would be “gradual”, reinforcing previous US indication of “years” as it monitored Iran’s compliance with an agreement.