GENEVA — Iranian and international negotiators will spend a third day negotiating the first steps toward reining in Tehran's nuclear program and easing harsh sanctions. Iran's foreign minister had raised expectations of a deal, and several Western foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have rushed to join the talks.
Kerry interrupted a trip through the Middle East to fly to Geneva, where he sat down with key European foreign ministers and then held a long session with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
Talks broke late Friday evening. A European Union spokesman called the talks “intense” and “good.” A senior State Department official said the meeting made progress, but there is still more work to do.
Even before the meetings, Kerry was lowering expectations. “There are still some very important issues on the table that are unresolved. It is important for those to be properly, thoroughly addressed. I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point in time.”
Russia's foreign minister will be here on Saturday, and China is sending its deputy minister to the talks.
Officials are providing few details, but the stage appears to be set for a minister-level meeting of the six-nation United Nations contact group and Iran, either to formalize an agreement or to again try to resolve remaining disputes.
The six nations in the so-called P5+1 contact group are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia - plus Germany.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney hinted at the outlines of a possible deal. "In exchange for concrete, verifiable measures to address the P5+1's concerns during the first step, the P5+1 would consider limited, targeted and reversible relief that does not affect our core sanctions architecture.”
Terms of deal
Officials have indicated Iran may at least temporarily stop enriching uranium to nearly the level needed to build weapons, but will maintain the ability to do so. Iran says it does not want a nuclear weapon. The U.N. Security Council wants limits on how close it can get, and inspections to prove it complies.
In an interview with NBC News, President Barack Obama stressed the need for Iran to begin to live up to what he called its international obligations on its nuclear program.
“We don't have to trust them. What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they're doing. And that they're actually moving in the right direction,” he said.
Late Friday, Obama briefed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the talks. Netanyahu earlier expressed his concerns, saying any agreement that allows Iran to maintain all of its enrichment capability is unacceptable.
“The deal that is being discussed in Geneva right now is a bad deal, it's a very bad deal. Iran gets everything that it wanted at this stage and it pays nothing,” said Netanyahu.
Diplomats here in Geneva stress that this accord, if it is reached, is only a first step, and that sanctions will be reimposed if it doesn't work out. The question is how much Iran will restrict its nuclear program at this stage, in return for how much relief from sanctions.