STATE DEPARTMENT — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Geneva amid signs of progress in talks to limit Iran's nuclear program. One of the biggest obstacles has been Iran's claimed right to enrich uranium.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says Secretary Kerry is going to Geneva "with the goal of continuing to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement."
Among those differences is Iran's long-held insistence that the international community recognize its "right" to enrich uranium, an obstacle that blocked agreement on a deal earlier this month.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week appeared to indicate that the wording of an agreement to suspend Iran's nuclear program need not explicitly guarantee that right, but would be understood as part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But that 1968 treaty does not specifically mention enrichment, guaranteeing instead only a nation's right to a peaceful nuclear program within inspection regimes established by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Kerry says there is no question of a country's enrichment "rights."
"Whatever a country decides or doesn't decide to do or is allowed to do, permitted under the rules depends on a negotiation, depends on a process," said Kerry.
And those are not the negotiations under way in Geneva to take a so-called "first step" toward ensuring Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. So, Kerry says there is no talk of whether Iran might ultimately retain some level of enrichment.
"That certainly will not be resolved in any first step, I can assure you," he said.
Speaking to reporters this week following talks with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Kerry said uranium enrichment under the non-proliferation treaty "depends on the standing of that particular nation" with respect to existing international obligations.
Bishop said Iran is not yet at that stage.
"We're not at a stage where Iran has convinced us that its use is for peaceful civilian purposes. Should it get to that point, then of course the appropriate international safeguards and protocols would apply as they would to any other country in that situation," said Bishop.
Nuclear negotiators are especially concerned about Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which is just a few steps short of weapons-grade levels. Throughout this process, Iran has maintained that it has no intention of developing an atomic bomb but needs to maintain domestic uranium enrichment for scientific research.