Iran reports positive progress in Geneva talks
Two-day mission to reach breakthrough in decade-old dispute begins today
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Iran is making progress in negotiations with six world powers aimed at ending a decade-long nuclear standoff between Tehran and the West, but the discussions are not easy,
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today. “The talks went well,” Mr Zarif told Reuters after the first session of the latest two-day round of nuclear talks between Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
“We are beginning to get to more detailed discussions this afternoon. I’m hopeful that we can move forward. We are making progress but it’s tough,” he said.
World powers are seeking to hammer out a breakthrough deal with Iran to start resolving a decade-old dispute over its nuclear programme in two-day talks that begin today, although both sides say an agreement is far from certain.
The United States and its allies say they are encouraged by Tehran’s shift to friendlier rhetoric after years of hostility since the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, who has pledged to repair ties with the West and win sanctions relief.
But they stress Iran needs to back its words with action and take concrete steps to scale back its atomic work, which they suspect has covert military aims, a charge Tehran denies.
“What we’re looking for is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran’s nuclear programme from moving forward and rolls it back for the first time in decades,” a senior US official told reporters on the eve of the talks.
That would help buy time needed for Iran and the six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - to reach a broader diplomatic settlement in a dispute that could otherwise plunge the Middle East into a new war.
The six nations want Iran to suspend its most sensitive uranium enrichment efforts, reduce its stockpile of such material and diminish its capacity to produce it in the future.
In return for any concessions, Iran wants the powers to lift painful economic sanctions that have slashed its daily oil sales revenues by 60 per cent in the past two years and devalued its rial currency by more than half.
Mr Zarif told French daily Le Monde a deal was “not that far off,” although it might not be struck at the talks in Thursday and Friday in Geneva.
“We can conclude (a deal) this week in Geneva, and if that’s not the case, it’s not a disaster, as long as things are moving forward,” he said.
The exact contours of a potential first step in the elusive deal were unclear, but the six nations are unlikely to agree on anything less than a suspension of enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent fissile purity, a level that constitutes a major advance on the way to making weapons.
“The nuclear talks are complex and have entered a serious phase,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees the talks with Iran on behalf of the powers. “We have to make concrete progress.”
The US official said that Iran at this stage must address key aspects of its nuclear programme, including sufficient international monitoring.
Iran’s construction of a research reactor near the town of Arak is also a growing concern for the West because it could yield plutonium for bombs.