News / Middle East

    Kerry Travels to Geneva as Iran, Six Powers Making Progress in Nuclear Talks

    Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Reza Najafi (l) and IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards Tero Tapio Varjoranta, right, deliver a statement after their meeting at the International Center
    Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Reza Najafi (l) and IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards Tero Tapio Varjoranta, right, deliver a statement after their meeting at the International Center
    Reuters
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva on Friday in an effort to help secure a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

    "Secretary Kerry will travel to Geneva, Switzerland on Friday at the invitation of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in an effort to help narrow differences in negotiations" the official said.

    Iran and six world powers appeared to be edging towards a preliminary deal on its nuclear activity on Thursday, citing progress in talks capitalizing on a diplomatic opening from Tehran, though it cautioned that the discussions were “tough”.
     
    The United States said the powers would consider relaxing some sanctions against Iran if it takes verifiable steps to limit its nuclear program - a long elusive compromise that could reduce the risk of another Middle East war.
     
    Lending urgency to the process, a U.S. Senate committee said it would pursue a package of tough new sanctions on Iran after the current Geneva talks end on Friday. Any more punitive sanctions would torpedo hopes for a deal, Iran has warned.
     
    President Barack Obama has urged Congress to hold off on more steps to isolate Iran, as called for by its arch-enemy Israel, to avoid derailing prospects for a deal the powers hope will deter any Iranian advance towards nuclear arms capability.
     
    A spokesman for the European Union foreign policy chief - who is presiding over the talks - said on Thursday evening that the powers and Iran were “making progress” towards easing a decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear intentions.
     
    Michael Mann said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would meet Iran's foreign minister and chief negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Friday morning “to allow more time to work through some issues”. Diplomats from the six nations would also meet early on Friday to prepare Ashton's talks with Zarif.
     
    Zarif told Reuters earlier in the day: “The talks went well ... I'm hopeful that we can move forward. We are making progress, but it's tough.”
     
    In an interview with CNN later, Zarif suggested that a partial suspension of Iran's contested uranium enrichment campaign might be possible - a concession it ruled out before moderate President Hassan Rouhani's landslide election in June.
     
    “There won't be a suspension of our enrichment program in its entirety,” Zarif said, rejecting Israel's central demand.
     
    But he said he hoped the sides would agree a joint statement on Friday stipulating a goal to be reached “within a limited period of time, hopefully in less than a year”, and a series of reciprocal actions they would take “to build confidence and address their most immediate concerns.
     
    “I believe it is possible to reach an understanding or an agreement before we close these negotiations tomorrow evening.”
     
    Iran says it is enriching uranium only to fuel future  nuclear power stations and wants the powers to start lifting harsh sanctions severely damaging the OPEC giant's economy.

    Related video report by VOA's Meredith Buel:

    Iranians Deeply Divided Over Nuclear Talksi
    X
    November 07, 2013 10:53 PM
    As talks between Iran and world powers reportedly show progress in resolving issues over Tehran's nuclear program, there are rifts within Iran over moves to improve relations with the West. Hardliners and moderates are especially at odds over efforts to end the long era of hostility between Iran and the United States. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

    Breakthrough far from certain
     
    The powers are aiming for a “first step” deal to allay suspicions the Islamic Republic, which has concealed nuclear work from U.N. inspectors in the past and continues to restrict their access, is covertly seeking the means to produce atomic bombs. But both sides said a breakthrough was no certainty.
     
    The United States said it also held “substantive and serious” bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva - direct dialog inconceivable before Rouhani took office pledging to build bridges abroad and end a slide towards conflict with the West.
     
    Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic ties since soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed monarchy, and their mutual mistrust and enmity has posed the biggest obstacle to any breakthrough nuclear accord.
     
    White House spokesman Jay Carney said that in exchange for “concrete, verifiable measures” of restraint by Iran, the six powers “would consider limited, targeted, and reversible relief that does not affect our core sanctions architecture”.
     
    The broader sanctions regime would stay pending a “final, comprehensive, verifiable” accord, Carney told reporters. If Iran did not follow through towards this end, modest sanctions relief could be reversed and stiffer penalties imposed.
     
    The U.S. Senate Banking Committee chairman declared the panel was moving forward on a proposal for new sanctions, a step likely to please Israel which has campaigned against compromise proposals under discussion in Geneva, describing them as potentially “a mistake of historic proportions”.
     
    Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid instructed him to bring the bill closer to a vote by the full Senate by calling for a debate on it.
     
    Diplomacy vulnerable to hardliners at home
     
    Both sides have limited leeway for compromise, with conservative hardliners in Tehran and in Washington likely to denounce any concession they regard as going too far.
     
    Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said after the morning meetings that he hoped a deal could be struck but     “the differences are widespread and deep. This is undeniable”.
     
    The Iranian delegation held a series of meetings - one with all three European delegations, then, separately, with the Russians, the Chinese and the Americans.
     
    Araqchi met for an hour with U.S. delegation chief Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, in a meeting that a senior State Department official described as a “substantive and serious conversation”.
     
    Rolling back nuclear program?
     
    The United States and its allies say they are encouraged by Tehran's shift to emollient rhetoric since the election of Rouhani. But Western allies say Iran must back its words with action and take concrete steps to scale back its atomic work.
     
    Washington says that would buy time for Iran and the powers to reach a broader diplomatic settlement and avert any war that could cause global economic upheaval.
     
    The exact nature of a possible first step remain unclear. But the six global powers are unlikely to agree on anything less than a suspension of enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, a level that constitutes a technical milestone not far from the threshold for a nuclear warhead.
     
    They want Iran to convert its stockpile of 20 percent uranium to an oxide form suitable for processing into reactor fuel, and take other measures to slow the program.
     
    In return for any concessions, Iran wants the powers to lift the sanctions that have slashed its oil revenues by 60 percent since 2011 and cut the value of its currency in half.
     
    The U.S. official said Iran at this stage must address important aspects of its nuclear activity, including more intrusive U.N. inspections. Iran's construction of a research reactor near the town of Arak is also a growing concern for the West because of its potential to yield plutonium for bombs.
     
    A senior aide to a U.S. senator briefed by the White House and State Department said Washington would offer to work with Iran in a six-month confidence-building period. During that time Washington would offer Tehran, among other things, relaxed restrictions on Iranian funds held in overseas accounts.
     
    Western diplomats involved in the talks are hesitant to divulge specifics about the discussions due to sensitivities involved. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he disliked the outlines of an initial deal being hinted at in Geneva since it would allow Iran to keep a nuclear capability.
     
    “Israel totally opposes these proposals,” he said in a speech. “I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions. They must be rejected outright.”
     
    Widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, Israel views Iran as a threat to its existence and has warned it could carry out pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear sites if diplomacy fails to restrain the program.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora