Iran presents proposals at Geneva talks
Iran keen for negotiated settlement to win relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (left) laughs with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva today. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/Pool/Reuters
Iran said it presented “logical” proposals in talks with six world powers in Geneva today aimed at achieving a breakthrough in a decade-old standoff over its disputed nuclear programme that has heightened the risk of a new Middle East war.
Tehran launched negotiations in earnest with the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, reflecting the election in June of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as new Iranian president, raising hopes for an end to the deadlock.
After years of ideological defiance, Iran appeared keen for a negotiated settlement to win relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy, slashed 60 pe cent of its daily oil export revenue and caused a steep devaluation of the rial currency.
Details of the Iranian proposal - unveiled as a PowerPoint presentation - were not immediately available. Western diplomats have cautioned in the past that Tehran appeared loath to offer sufficient nuclear concessions to secure a deal.
Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi said, however, that the global powers had a “welcomed” Tehran’s proposals and the substantive details would be discussed later in the day at the deputy foreign minister level.
“We think that the proposal we have made has the capacity to make a breakthrough. We had a very serious and good meeting this morning,” he told reporters.
“The questions that were asked regarding Iran’s plan were completely serious and our answers were as well. Both sides felt that the opposite side was continuing the negotiations with motivation,” Mr Araqchi said.
He added: “We are very serious .. We are not here to waste time. We are serious for a real target-oriented negotiation.”
The West suspects Iran is trying to develop the means to make nuclear arms behind the screen of a declared civilian atomic energy programme. Tehran denies this but its refusal to limit activity applicable to nuclear bomb production, or to permit unfettered UN inspections, has drawn severe sanctions.
In a possible sign of the Islamic Republic’s determination to meaningfully address specifics of the powers’ concerns after years of sidestepping them, the talks in Geneva were conducted in English for the first time.
A spokesman for the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the six nations, said there was a sense of “cautious optimism” ahead of the meeting and that Ms Ashton and Mr Zarif dined together yesterday evening in a “very positive atmosphere”.
On a personal level, talks were complicated for Zarif by back pain, which landed him in hospital last week. Returning to his hotel from preliminary discussions with world powers, Zarif declined to speak to reporters, saying: “I’m really in pain.”
On the eve of the talks, Washington held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief if Tehran moved swiftly to allay concerns about its nuclear programme, although both countries said any deal would be complex and take time.