It is make-or-break time in nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran.
After 10 years, almost 12 years, of negotiations with Iran, the endgame, so to speak... has begun
With a March 31 deadline fast approaching for a preliminary deal, the Swiss resort of Lausanne is the scene of frantic last-minute diplomacy to try to iron out differences.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have been there for days to try to reach an accord and they held several rounds of talks on Saturday.
For the leader of Tehran’s delegation, it is now the turn of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China to compromise.
“Iran has made a decision, a political decision, to go for an engagement with dignity,” Zarif told reporters.
“I believe our negotiating partners also need to make decisions. I believe they have realised that sanctions, pressure and an agreement will not go together.”
Western officials close to the talks have said it is down to Iran to give ground in a deal to halt its sensitive nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.
Remaining sticking points include Tehran’s ambitions for nuclear research and development and the immediate removal of UN sanctions.
While optimism is in the air, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has urged caution.
He told reporters on arrival in Lausanne that he hoped for “a robust agreement. Iran has the right to civil nuclear power, but with regard to the atomic bomb, it’s ‘no’.”
“We have moved forward on certain points, but on others not enough,” he said.
Iran denies any ambition to build nuclear weapons and says its atomic programme is for purely civilian purposes.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier compared it all to the final stage of a mountain climb.
“After 10 years, almost 12 years, of negotiations with Iran, the endgame, so to speak… has begun,” he told journalists.
“And here, with a view of the Swiss mountains, I’m reminded that as one sees the cross on the summit, the final metres are the most difficult but also the most decisive.”
Separately, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Twitter that he spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the two agreed on the need for a resolution of the nuclear issue.
Earlier this week, Rouhani sent a letter to the heads of state of all six powers, including to US President Barack Obama, with the same message.
He also spoke on the phone with five of the six leaders, but not with Obama.
The framework accord should be followed by a comprehensive deal by June 30 that includes full technical details.
Our correspondent in Lausanne, Reihaneh Mazaheri, says a deal is possible, but both sides insist that fundamental disagreements must first be resolved.