LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Iran and six world powers broke off nuclear negotiations ahead of schedule Friday to allow members of the Iranian delegation to attend the funeral of their president's mother, as a senior Russian officials suggested that the sides were close to a deal.
Senior Russian negotiator Sergey Ryabkov told The Associated Press that while some disputes remain, negotiators are expected to "finish their main work" during the current round and even before the talks resume next week.
The negotiations had been tentatively extended to go into Saturday. But the Iranian delegation decided to depart for home later Friday to allow negotiators, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Hossein Fereydoon, a brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, to attend the funeral of Rouhani's mother.
Ryabkov's comments jibe with that of other officials who told the AP earlier that the United States and Iran are drafting elements of a deal that commits Tehran to a 40 percent cut in the number of machines it could use to make an atomic bomb. In return, the Iranians would get quick relief from some crippling economic sanctions and a partial lift of a U.N. embargo on conventional arms.
Agreement on those details of Iran's uranium enrichment program could signal a breakthrough for a larger deal aimed at containing the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities.
The sides ultimately want to reach a full agreement by the end of June. In Brussels, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the state of negotiations Friday with the EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini.
Ryabkov said earlier that foreign ministers of those three nations were considering joining the talks in Lausanne, but the decision by the Iranians to leave Friday took that option off the table.
Instead, Western consultations were moving elsewhere. U.S State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Secretary of State John Kerry — who has done most of the negotiating directly with Zarif — would meet the French, British and German foreign ministers somewhere in Europe Saturday ahead of a new full round next week. The ISNA news agency in Iran said talks would resume Wednesday. Diplomats said the venue would likely be somewhere in Switzerland.
Iran is negotiating in Switzerland with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, with an end-of-March deadline to reach a preliminary deal for Iran to scale back its nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions. Iran insists it is not trying to build a nuclear bomb, but the West is skeptical.
The negotiations build on a deal struck in late 2013 that commits Tehran to temporary restrictions while the present negotiations continue. A confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report issued Friday and shared with the AP said Iran was honoring those commitments.