The US State Department said it believes there is a 50 percent chance of reaching a framework accord with Iran by Tuesday, as negotiators raced to finalize a deal with Tehran over its nuclear program before a March 31 midnight deadline.
Spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted by Reuters Monday as saying that the chances of an agreement with Iran stood at 50-50.
It is unclear what move the six world powers, known as P5+1, will take in the event of a negotiations breakdown, but Harf indicated that all options remain on the table.
“We’re focused on these next 24 hours, they’re very crucial. We know that diplomacy is the best way to handle this, but we have other options if we can’t get this done diplomatically,” Harf told MSNBC news Monday from the Swiss resort town of Lausanne, where diplomats had gathered to hammer out an accord.
“The president and Secretary [of State John] Kerry have been very clear that the end of March is a real deadline and the decision the Iranians have to make isn’t going to get any easier the longer they wait,” Harf said. “We have been very clear: We’re not going to take a bad deal.”
Asked by reporters what plans will be made in the event of a no-deal, Harf intoned that the US will have to take a “hard look” at its options, the outcome of which “I don’t want to predict.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Iran’s expectations from the talks are “very ambitious” and not yet acceptable to his country or the other five negotiating: the US, Britain, China, France and Russia.
In a sign that the talks would go down to the wire on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left, just a day after arriving, to return to Moscow. His spokeswoman said he would will return to Lausanne on Tuesday only if there was a realistic chance for a deal.
Foreign ministers from major powers raced against the clock in the Swiss town of Lausanne Monday on the eve of a deadline to nail down the final pieces of a framework deal they hope will put any Iranian nuclear bomb out of reach.
Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Western powers that any agreement with Tehran would be seen as a reward for the country’s alleged “aggression” in Yemen.
“The agreement being formulated… sends a message that there is no price for aggression and, on the contrary, that Iran’s aggression is to be rewarded,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iranian support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“The moderate and responsible countries in the region, especially Israel and also many other countries, will be the first to be hurt by this agreement,” said the prime minister, who has waged a campaign against the emerging nuclear deal with Tehran, arguing that it will pave the way “to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.
“One cannot understand that when forces supported by Iran continue to conquer more ground in Yemen, in Lausanne they are closing their eyes to this aggression,” Netanyahu said. “But we are not closing our eyes and we will continue to act against every threat in every generation, certainly in this generation.”
There are more than half a dozen shifting elements at play in the Iran nuclear deal currently being cobbled together in Lausanne, Switzerland – everything from the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges to the fate of the underground facility in Fordow to the possible military dimensions of the program. But the future, assuming a deal is reached, will hinge on monitoring and verification, and that, to borrow a phrase from an Obama insider, is a problem from hell.
The first challenge will be the detection of violations. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice told AIPAC earlier this month that “we’re not taking anything on trust.” Instead, she made the case that “we’ve insisted upon — and achieved — unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program,” including “daily access” to the nuclear sites at Natanz and Fordow.
Tellingly, though, the unparalleled access has failed to impress the International Atomic Energy Agency – a UN body that seems to have staked out territory to the right of the Obama administration.