STATE DEPARTMENT - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet on Saturday to discuss the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations.
The meeting in Geneva comes as some parties in the talks are raising questions about whether negotiators will meet the end of June deadline for an agreement.
The State Department says the U.S. is focused on June 30 as the deadline for a nuclear accord, in spite of comments from Iran and France that an extension may have to be considered.
Spokesman Jeff Rathke said Wednesday the U.S. believes that reaching an agreement by the end of next month is achievable.
“We are not contemplating an extension beyond June 30. Again, we are united among the P5+1 [five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany] that our efforts are to reach a final deal by the end of June,” said Rathke.
More time needed?
Earlier Wednesday, a senior Iranian envoy said nuclear negotiators might be forced to extend talks beyond June 30.
According to Iranian state media, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran nuclear negotiators "are not bound by time.”
“We are committed to this issue that a good agreement with details that are favorable to us is hammered out, even if it may take a long time,” he said.
Araqchi commented from Vienna, where nuclear negotiations have been underway between Iran and the P5+1.
On Tuesday, French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud voiced similar concerns.
At a Washington forum, he said it is “very likely” there will not be a complete deal by the June deadline because of unresolved technical issues.
The French ambassador suggested there could be a “fuzzy [unclear] end” to negotiations.
At the same forum, German Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig said that talks had been proceeding at a “rather slow pace” at the expert level, since early April. “The most difficult path may lie ahead,” he said.
Not a crisis point
However, a former State Department official who was part of the U.S. negotiating team said he is “not terribly worried” about the prospect of negotiators missing the deadline.
“There is no crisis that is on the other side of the deadline,” said Richard Nephew, a former deputy sanctions chief at the State Department.
Nephew, who is now with Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said the Joint Plan of Action had already “restrained” Iran’s nuclear program and provided a “stable” platform for providing limited sanctions relief.
Under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran agreed to provisions that include limiting uranium enrichment levels and providing site access to nuclear inspectors in exchange for some sanctions relief.
Nephew added that if the deadline passed with no agreement, he did expect “noise” [opposition] from sources including the U.S. Congress.
“There are going to be people on Capitol Hill and elsewhere saying it just proves the Iranians don’t want to get a good deal,” he said.
Nephew said he believes the remaining sticking points between Iran and world powers include the pace and timing of sanctions relief.
He also said negotiators may be stuck on the “extent and reach” of transparency and monitoring. In particular, Iranian officials have voiced objections to giving nuclear inspectors access to military sites.
Nephew said negotiators also may be having difficulty resolving how much research and development Iran would be allowed to conduct under a final agreement.
Iran is seeking a deal that provides sanctions relief. World powers are seeking an agreement that provides assurances that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.
The two sides agreed to extend talks until late June after they failed to reach a comprehensive agreement in time for a November deadline.
In addition to Geneva, Kerry travels to Nigeria for the inauguration of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari. He also will visit Madrid and Paris.