Iran close to historic nuclear deal with West
US secretary of state John Kerry travels to Geneva talks to address ‘important gaps’
US secretary of state John Kerry walks with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton before their meeting with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zari in Geneva yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Jason Reed
Iran was close to signing a historic deal with western powers last night that would see it limit its nuclear activity in exchange for an easing of EU and US sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Negotiators were locked in discussions on the second day of EU-led talks in Geneva that have, for the first time in decades, offered hope of a thawing of relations between Iran and the West.
Following substantial progress during discussions on Thursday, led on the international side by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, representatives of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as the German foreign minister, made an unscheduled visit to Geneva yesterday.
US secretary of state John Kerry, UK foreign secretary William Hague and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius – representing three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – travelled to the Swiss city yesterday. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle also attended. The foreign ministers of Russia and China, the other two permanent members, were not at the talks.
‘Some important gaps’
Mr Kerry , who came straight from talks in Tel Aviv with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, stressed that no agreement had yet been made. “Some important gaps” had to be closed, he said. A representative for the US state department had said Mr Kerry was travelling to Geneva “in an effort to help narrow the differences in the negotiations”.
Mr Netanyahu reacted furiously yesterday to news that a rapprochement could be imminent, saying Israel “utterly rejected” any deal. Iran was in line for “the deal of the century” if Tehran was granted temporary relief from sanctions.
“Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people,” he said, adding that many others in the region shared Israel’s view. “I urge secretary Kerry not to rush to sign, to wait, to reconsider, to get a good deal.”
Bilateral discussions between Ms Ashton and the Iranian foreign minister continued yesterday, with the EU foreign policy chief also holding bilateral meetings with the EU foreign ministers in Geneva. Ms Ashton also met Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Any deal would likely be a preliminary arrangement, to be followed by months of further negotiations to secure a permanent agreement, with a six-month deal under consideration yesterday.
The US broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran following the 1979 Iranian revolution and the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran.
The EU and US have expanded sanctions against Iran over the last three years, in an effort to entice it to the negotiating table. Iran argues its nuclear programme is used for peaceful means.
The price of oil rose to a four-month high yesterday, amid signs that some easing of oil sanctions on Iran, which has one of the largest reserves of oil in the world, could be imminent.
Any change to the sanction regime is expected to have a significant effect on oil prices.