Obama sends message to Iranian people as nuclear talks near a deal – Los Angeles Times

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2015

Amid forecasts that a deal is close, but with several key issues unresolved, six world powers announced Friday they would take a five-day break from their negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

The break, timed to coincide with the Iranian New Year holiday, Nowruz, came as President Obama released a videotaped new year’s message to the Iranian people, urging them to support the negotiations.

Obama appealed in particular to Iran’s young people, telling them that a deal that ends Iran’s isolation could lead to a better future for them.

“If Iran’s leaders can agree to a reasonable deal, it can lead to a better path — the path of greater opportunities for the Iranian people,” he said. “More trade and ties with the world. More foreign investment and jobs, including for young Iranians. More cultural exchanges and chances for Iranian students to travel abroad.

“In other words, a nuclear deal now can help open the door to a brighter future for you — the Iranian people, who, as heirs to a great civilization, have so much to give to the world,” Obama said.

Iran’s leaders “have a choice between two paths. If they cannot agree to a reasonable deal, they will keep Iran on the path it’s on today — a path that has isolated Iran, and the Iranian people, from so much of the world, caused so much hardship for Iranian families, and deprived so many young Iranians of the jobs and opportunities they deserve,” he added.

Six world powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have been negotiating for 18 months with Iran seeking a deal that would gradually lift economic sanctions on that country in return for restrictions on its nuclear program.

The diplomats, who had considered working through the weekend, plan to return to Switzerland on Wednesday to resume efforts to work out the main elements of a deal before March 31. A final, detailed text would be due by July.

The six-day negotiating round had been “intensive,” and “given where we are, it is time for high-level discussions with our partners in these talks,” Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Obama administration has been under pressure from Congress to show progress on a deal. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, agreed Thursday to wait until April 14 to begin work on a bill aimed at giving the Senate a greater say in an Iran deal, in effect giving the administration until then to present an agreement and begin making its case. 

The break comes amid some signs of divisions among the Western governments involved in the negotiations. French officials have become more public recently in asserting that Iran needs to give more if the agreement is going to be effective in keeping Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The goal of the talks has been to limit Iran’s nuclear efforts so that it would remain a year away from being able to put together enough fuel for a single bomb and impose strict monitoring systems that would prevent the Iranians from cheating.

Unresolved issues including how quickly sanctions would be lifted, especially those imposed by the United Nations; how much nuclear research and development Iran would be allowed to do; how many years any agreement would last; and the plans for monitoring and inspections.

Diplomats say some European officials also have expressed unhappiness that what used to be a seven-way conversation has evolved in the last few months into largely an Iran-U.S. negotiation.

Another complication is discussion of which countries will get lucrative commercial contracts to modify Iran’s nuclear program once a deal is concluded, according to people involved in the talks.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry plans to meet in Europe this weekend with the French, British and German foreign ministers to discuss the talks, Harf said. Kerry also spoke on the phone Friday with the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, she added.

Kerry told reporters at the luxury lakeside hotel where talks have been conducted that diplomats needed to assess the progress of the discussions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, asked if a deal was in sight, told reporters, “I hope so.”

Kerry also issued a statement Friday morning expressing condolences to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose mother died earlier in the day.

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