Tentative accord on key parts of Iran deal: diplomats

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TV journalists rush in the hotel on March 29, 2015 during Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne

TV journalists rush in the hotel on March 29, 2015 during Iran nuclear talks in Lausanne (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini)

Lausanne (AFP) - Iran and six world powers have reached tentative agreement on key parts of a deal sharply curtailing Tehran's nuclear programme, Western diplomats said Sunday while cautioning that the pact is by no means done.

One of these diplomats in talks in Switzerland said Iran had "more or less" agreed to slash the number of its centrifuge machines by more than two-thirds and to ship abroad most of its stockpile of nuclear material.

As negotiators in Lausanne raced to nail down by midnight Tuesday the outlines of a deal, due to be finalised by June 30, the diplomats cautioned however that with some tough issues still to resolve, things may change.

Iranian diplomats denied that any tentative agreement on these points has been struck, saying that reports of a specific number of centrifuges and exporting its stockpiles were "journalistic speculation".

"The fact is that we will conserve a substantial number of centrifuges, that no site will be closed, in particular Fordo. These are the basis of the talks," the Iranian diplomat said.

A senior member of the Iranian negotiating team said that the "publication of such information by certain Western media is aimed at creating an atmosphere to disturb the negotiating process".

Under the outlines coming together to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, the underground Fordo facility near the holy city of Qom would cease uranium enrichment, another diplomat told AFP, hinting it would likely stay open for other purposes.

But diplomats stressed that everything was inter-related and there were still unresolved issues such as over Iran’s nuclear research and development programme, which Western nations fear could mask a cover path to seek nuclear weapons.

Another hurdle is a network of US, EU and UN sanctions imposed on Tehran over the years for its nuclear activities and for violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran has called for the sanctions to be completely lifted. But a senior US official said there was general agreement about a phased approach between all parties, with different elements seen as having different timelines and durations.

It remained unclear however whether agreement on the broad contours of a deal could be reached by a Tuesday midnight deadline, the official said.

Centrifuges render uranium suitable for nuclear power generation but at high purities also for the core of a nuclear bomb. Iran's stockpiles of enriched uranium could in theory be further processed to this level.