Kerry to join Iran nuclear talks amid hopes of deal

Negotiators from Iran and six global powers are meeting in Geneva to broker agreement that could see Tehran freeze nuclear efforts in exchange for sanctions relief

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 6:06pm

US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva on Friday to join talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, fuelling hopes a historic agreement may be within reach.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was also rushing to Geneva to join the negotiations, which have raised the prospect of the first breakthrough in a decade in limiting Iran’s nuclear efforts.

Tehran and world powers ended a first day of talks on Thursday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying a deal could be reached “before we close these negotiations”.

Negotiators from Iran and six global powers are meeting for two days in Geneva to broker an agreement that could see Tehran freeze its nuclear efforts in exchange for some relief from the sanctions that have battered its economy.

Western powers suspect Iran’s uranium enrichment may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran denies.

Kerry will go to the Swiss city “in an effort to help narrow differences in negotiations” and at the invitation of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a senior State Department official said.

Upending an 11-day tour mostly of the Middle East, Kerry was due to arrive in Geneva later on Friday and hold three-way talks with Zarif and Ashton, who is representing the six powers.

Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Tel Aviv airport on Friday, flying in especially from Amman on his way to Geneva.

“This is a very bad deal. Israel utterly rejects it,” Netanyahu told reporters before beginning the talks, saying Iran was getting “the deal of the century”.

Iran’s Zarif was due to meet early on Friday with Ashton, who is chairing the talks on behalf of the P5+1 group of world powers – permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.

In their second meeting in Geneva in less than a month, Iranian negotiators sat down for a series of talks on Thursday that Western officials described as “substantive” and “productive”.

The talks had previously dragged on for years but were given new momentum by the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a relative moderate.

“There is a window of opportunity now that has been created by the Iranian people ... and that opportunity needs to be seized,” Zarif said.

‘Complicated, difficult and intensive’ talks

After Thursday’s talks, a spokesman for Ashton said “we are making progress” but that it was too early to speak of an end game.

“I can’t give you any sort of final verdict yet,” said the spokesman, Michael Mann. “The ball is in their court.”

In another possible indication the talks were making headway, Zarif cancelled a planned trip to Rome to stay on in Geneva.

Iran’s lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said Zarif was staying because talks “have entered a complicated, difficult and intensive” phase.

The meeting is the second since Rouhani took office in August pledging to resolve the nuclear dispute and lift sanctions by engaging with world powers.

Iran is anxious for relief from crippling economic sanctions that have cut oil revenues by more than half, caused the value of the rial to plunge and pushed inflation above 40 per cent.

The West is also keen to seize a rare opportunity to build bridges with Iran after decades of hostility, opening the door to engaging with Tehran on other issues like the conflict in Syria, where Iran has backed President Bashar al-Assad against insurgents.

US President Barack Obama said in an interview with NBC News that the agreement being fleshed out would keep the bulk of sanctions on the Islamic Republic in place, and any relief could be reversed.

“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,” Obama said.

“There is the possibility of a phased agreement in which the first phase would be us halting any advances on their nuclear programme, rolling some potential back, and putting in place ... some very modest relief, but keeping the sanctions architecture in place.”

Last month’s talks in Geneva – held in English for the first time – saw Iran reportedly outline a two-stage process that would resolve the dispute within a year.

The six international powers have been pushing Iran to freeze its enrichment efforts, reduce stockpiles and lower its capacity to produce nuclear material.