5:08 pm - Saturday February 22, 9721

John Kerry, Javad Zarif in critical round of Iran nuclear talks

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LAUSANNE: Iran nuclear talks enter a critical week Monday with US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart in Switzerland seeking an elusive breakthrough after 18 months of intense negotiations.

Time is running out, however, with Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif aiming to agree the outlines of an agreement by the end of the month. A full accord is then due by July 1.

Both men, due to meet in Lausanne at 0700 GMT, are also under intense pressure from domestic hardliners worried they will give too much away.

Speaking in Egypt before travelling to Switzerland, Kerry sought to ease such concerns, saying that the aim is “not just to get any deal, it is to get the right deal”.

“If (Iran’s nuclear programme is) peaceful, let’s get it done. And my hope is that in the next days, that will be possible,” Kerry told CBS television.

There were, however, “important gaps,” he said. “Several questions need to be discussed, those where we haven’t found a solution yet and also those where we have found solutions but where we need to discuss certain details,” Zarif told Iranian state television from Switzerland.

Zarif was later due in Brussels to meet his British, French, German and EU counterparts before returning to Lausanne.

The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations for 35 years but the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani resulted in a minor thaw and a diplomatic push to resolve the more than decade-old nuclear standoff.

Under a landmark November 2013 interim deal with major powers — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany Tehran stopped expanding its activities in return for minor sanctions relief.

Since then the parties have been pushing for a lasting accord. But to the alarm of Israel, US Republicans and Washington’s Gulf allies, the US looks to have abandoned insisting that Iran dismantle all nuclear activities.

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