Talks in Geneva on Iran nuclear deal edge closer to breathrough
Negotiations continue on deal to curb Iran’s atomic activity in exchange for relief from sanctions
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Geneva International airport. Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany are aiming to agree with Iran on an initial set of temporary curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme, in return for suspending some sanctions. Photograph: Denis Balibouse/EPA
US secretary of state John Kerry and foreign ministers of five other world powers joined talks on Iran’s contested nuclear programme, with the two sides edging towards a breakthrough to ease a dangerous decade-old standoff.
The Chinese, Russian, French, British and German foreign ministers - Wang Yi, Sergei Lavrov, Laurent Fabius, William Hague and Guido Westerwelle - all pulled up their sleeves to try to seal an interim deal under which Iran would cap its nuclear activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.
Mr Hague and Mr Westerwelle, however, both cautioned that a preliminary accord to turn the page on years of confrontation with the Islamic Republic was not yet guaranteed and that there was much work to do to bridge remaining differences.
“We (foreign ministers) are not here because things are necessarily finished,” Mr Hague told reporters. “There is a huge amount of agreement...(But) the remaining gaps are important and we will be turning our attention to those over coming hours. They remain very difficult negotiations.”
Diplomats earlier said a formidable sticking point in the intense negotiations, which began on Wednesday, may have been overcome with compromise language that does not explicitly recognise
Iran’s claim to a “right to enrich” uranium but acknowledges all countries’ right to their own civilian nuclear energy.
But Russian Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Iran’s demand to continue construction of a heavy-water reactor near Arak that could yield plutonium - an alternative bomb material - remained a tough outstanding issue. Mr Ryabkov said a breakthrough was closer now than at the November 7th to 9th round of Geneva talks but, he told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency, “unfortunately I can’t say that there is a certainty of reaching that breakthrough.”
“It’s not a done deal. There’s a realistic chance but there’s a lot of work to do,” Mr Westerwelle told reporters.
The powers’ goal is to cap Iran’s nuclear energy programme, which has a history of evading UN inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs rather than electricity. Iranian authorities deny any agenda to “weaponise” enrichment.
“We are close to a deal but still differences over two-three issues remain,” said Iranian Deputy foreign minister Abbar Araqchi, a senior negotiator.
An initial accord on confidence-building steps would be designed to launch a phased process of detente with Iran after decades of tense estrangement, and banish the spectre of a devastating Middle East war over its nuclear aspirations.
A preliminary pact would run for six months while the powers and Tehran hammer out a broader, longer-term settlement.