Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Paris during nuclear negotiations. (US Department of State) (US Department of State)
kerry zarif

Despite Iran’s refusal to submit to surprise nuclear inspections and the Saudi-Iranian conflict over Yemen, the US and P5+1 members are optimistic about reaching a nuclear deal by the March 31 deadline.

IAEA General Director Yukiya Amano (IAEA).

IAEA General Director Yukiya Amano (IAEA).

The last round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 are underway in Lausanne, Switzerland. US officials have expressed optimism that they will be able to reach a nuclear agreement by the March 31 deadline, despite Iran refusing to cooperate with IAEA attempts to determine whether Iran is currently pursuing or has pursued a nuclear weapon. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Yemen is also casting a shadow on the talks.

A senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry, “We can see a path forward here to get to an agreement.” The main gaps between the parties are reported to be how quickly sanctions against Iran will be removed and how much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure it will be allowed to keep intact. There is also conflict among the members of the P5+1 over the concessions being made to Iran.

Iran had harsh words for IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, who complained that the country was not implementing additional protocols designed to confirm that the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful. “It would be much better if Amano only talked about the IAEA’s seasonal and monthly reports,” said Iranian nuclear spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi on state TV. Kamalvandi said Amano’s statements harm the prospects for a nuclear deal.

Now, Sunni-Shiite tensions in the region are flaring up after a Saudi-led coalition began bombing rebel targets in neighboring Yemen with US logistical support. The Houthi rebels, who have overtaken the capital, are funded by Iran. Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham condemned the airstrikes, which she called, “a dangerous action against international responsibilities to respect countries’ national sovereignty.” Nonetheless, according to a State Dept. spokesman, “The situation in Yemen is not having an impact on the [nuclear] talks.”