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Lausanne, Switzerland: Iran and six world powers intensified efforts to reach a nuclear accord as foreign ministers from all sides met with their deadline less than 48 hours away.

Potential rifts emerged at the talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, with diplomats issuing conditions and challenging each other to make concessions. Before the first full-scale ministerial meeting began on Monday, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there was some “backsliding" and Iran contradicted earlier reports that it was prepared to ship out its enriched uranium stockpile to a guarantor nation.

“We don’t have the intention to ship our material abroad, but there are other solutions to create trust," Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said on Sunday. “We are towards the end of the negotiations, the negotiations are very tough right now."

Envoys remain divided over the pace of easing sanctions on Iran and on the limits to be imposed on its nuclear programme. A framework accord by 31 March would be a major step toward ending Iran’s economic isolation, though another three months are envisaged to reach a detailed final agreement.

No decision has been made on how to dispose of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium, a US official said by email on Monday. Disposition of Iran’s stockpile is essential to ensuring that its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful, according to the official, who asked not to be named in line with diplomatic rules.

‘Serious decisions’

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov joined the talks on Sunday. Negotiations at the Beau Rivage Palace hotel entered a sixth day and have been led by US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. France’s Laurent Fabius is also attending.

The “other side must make serious decisions," Araghchi told reporters on Sunday. At the same time, Hammond said “Iran has to take a deep breath and take tough decisions."

Failure would be a blow to President Barack Obama, who has backed the talks despite domestic opposition, even from within his own party, and increase the risk of military action by the US or Israel to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has demanded the immediate end of sanctions, which have cut oil output in the country with the world’s fourth-biggest reserves. Western powers have proposed lifting UN sanctions in phases over four to six years, according to two people involved in the talks who asked not to be identified. Some sanctions may remain in place for as long as a decade, they said.

US Congress

Whatever the outcome this week, Obama faces an uphill battle selling the deal in Congress or buying more time to continue talks.

Republicans and many Democrats in Congress agree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s argument that the proposed deal is dangerous. Members of Congress have pledged to tighten sanctions on Iran if there’s no accord, and to pass laws requiring Congressional oversight of the deal if there is one.

The stakes are also high for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, elected as a reformer to fix an economy squeezed by sanctions. Rouhani said the removal of penalties must be “a fundamental part of this agreement" and that it was “the other side’s turn to take the final steps," the Fars news agency reported on Sunday.

If a deal is reached, Iran could add more crude to an oversupplied oil market where prices have fallen more than 50% since June. Iran has stored excess crude on tankers for the past 2 1/2 years as restrictions deterred buyers, according to the International Energy Agency. The country now exports about 1 million barrels of crude per day, down from 2.5 million in mid-2012, IEA data show. Bloomberg

Grant Smith in London, Anthony DiPaola in Dubai, Golnar Motevalli in Tehran and Ladane Nasseri, Gregory Viscusi and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Lausanne, Switzerland contributed to this story.

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