SWITZERLAND (NBC NEWS) — Will they or won’t they? Iran and six world powers buckled down on Tuesday in a last-ditch attempt to hammer out a nuclear deal with less than 24 hours to go before a self-imposed deadline.
Diplomats from Iran and the so-called P5+1 — the U.S. China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain — are scrambling to agree on the framework of an agreement that would see Iran limit its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief.
Talks over the past week in Switzerland have intensified as the midnight Tuesday deadline (6 p.m. ET) approached, with all sides swinging between cautious optimism and warning that differences remained which could scupper a long-awaited deal to end a decade-long nuclear standoff.
One of the biggest sticking points, according to U.S. negotiators, has been getting Iran to curtail its research and development on nuclear activity for at least 10 years but potentially longer. Another has been on the timing of sanctions relief for Iran if a deal is reached.
“Long day ahead,” one State Department official tweeted as talks got underway again Tuesday.
It was not immediately clear if those present would be willing to stick around for talks past the deadline — or what missing Tuesday’s cut-off would mean for the comprehensive-deal’s target of June 30. Iran and the six powers have twice extended their deadline for a long-term agreement after reaching an interim accord in November 2013.
“I can’t rule out that there will be further crises in these negotiations,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said told reporters on Monday, noting that there had been “some progress and some setbacks in the last hours.”
He and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius cancelled plans to depart for a meeting in Berlin to stay overnight as talks entered a critical phase.
As Kerry and his counterparts sat down Tuesday with Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif, a reporter asked if a deal could be reached that day. “You’ll have your answer before the end of the day,” Kerry replied, then smiled.