Iran nuclear talks break up as deadline looms

LAUSANNE, Switzerland—Nuclear talks between Iran and six powers are set to go down to the wire, with negotiations breaking up on Friday and expected to resume again just days before the March 31 deadline for a political deal.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he will meet somewhere in Europe on Saturday with the British, French and German foreign ministers and then return to Washington.

“We’ve had a series of intensive discussions with Iran this week, and given where we are in the negotiations, it’s an important time for high-level consultations with our partners in these talks,” Marie Harf said.

Two diplomats at the talks said that the likely day for negotiations to resume next week was Wednesday March 25.

Iran and the six powers have fixed an end-March deadline to agree the political framework of an agreement. A full, comprehensive nuclear deal must be signed by June 30.

While U.S. and Iranian diplomats have stressed the progress made in the talks, other officials have been more cautious. One European diplomat said on Thursday: “I don’t think we have made sufficient progress.

“A lot of issues remain on the table,” he said.

Failure to reach a political understanding on time could firm up political opposition to the negotiations in Washington.

On Thursday, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman and ranking member of the SenateForeign Relations Committee, said that the committee will vote on April 14 on a bill that would give lawmakers an up-and-down vote on the bill.

The meetings in Lausanne continued into the early afternoon on Friday. The Iranian team was due to fly back to Tehran later on Friday, ahead of the funeral of the mother of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani who died this week.

In a morning meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Friday, Mr. Kerry expressed his condolences for the death of the president’s mother and called for “prosperity and peace” at the start of the Persian New Year, known as Nowruz.

Our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear. Now it is early spring. We have a chance—a chance—to make progress that will benefit our countries, and the world, for many years to come.

—U.S. President Barack Obama.

The American diplomat’s comments came at the start of a fifth straight day of direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran that are aimed at forging an agreement to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for phasing out international sanctions.

Iran’s delegation at the talks is being led by Mr. Zarif, and has included President Rouhani’s brother, Hossein Fereydoun. The Iranian diplomat was absent from Friday’s meeting, however, after returning to Tehran to attend his mother’s funeral.

“We want to express our deepest condolences,” to Mr. Rouhani, his brother and the Iranian people, Mr. Kerry said at the start of Friday’s talks.

The secretary of state then offered his best wishes to the Iranian people on Nowruz, which starts late on Friday evening Swiss time.

“We want to wish the people of Iran…a Nowruz Mubarak. We hope this is a year that can bring us prosperity and peace,” Mr. Kerry said, looking directly at his Iranian counterpart.

Mr. Zarif responded: “I hope this new year will be a new year for the entire world.”

Both sides in negotiations had hoped to wrap up the talks before the start of the Iranian new-year holiday.

However, gaps remain on some important issues, including the timing of sanctions reliefto monitoring measures, the future of some nuclear sites and the amount of nuclear research Iran would be permitted to carry out under an accord.

U.S. President Barack Obama also sent a Nowruz message to Iranians on Thursday. He stressed the importance of a deal in potentially opening a new era of cooperation between Washington and Tehran, who have been staunch adversaries since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

“Our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear. Now it is early spring. We have a chance—a chance—to make progress that will benefit our countries, and the world, for many years to come,” Mr. Obama said. “Now it is up to all of us, Iranians and Americans, to seize this moment and the possibilities that can bloom in this new season.”

In Brussels on Friday, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini held talks with the leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. in Brussels to discuss the Iranian nuclear negotiations on the sidelines of a meeting of EU leaders.

France, Germany and the U.K. are three of the group of six global powers that is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, alongside the U.S., Russia and China. Ms. Mogherini is the formal chair of the group.

Friday’s discussions took place on the sidelines of an EU leaders meeting in Brussels.

One of the key issues in the talks is how quickly restrictive measures—including unilateral European sanctions—can be phased out if there is a deal. EU officials have said in recent weeks they want to be well prepared to move quickly to provide some easing of sanctions if a robust deal with Iran can be agreed.

By The Wall Street Journal