Chief diplomats are interrupting their schedules to fly to Geneva today, attempting to seal an accord with Iran that would break the decade-long stalemate over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
Secretary of State John Kerry plans to attend talks in the Swiss city -- after a meeting today in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- in an effort to help narrow differences. He’ll be joined by the foreign ministers of France and Germany, Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle, as well as U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague. Meetings among diplomats in Geneva began early this morning with no time set for resuming full negotiations later today, EU spokesman Michael Mann told reporters.
A framework has been agreed upon and negotiators will try to fill in details at the session, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview. Iran has been offered “limited, targeted and reversible relief” from sanctions in return for concrete and verifiable concessions on its nuclear work, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in Washington.
“Our job now is to test how serious they are about resolving this conflict, or this dispute, through peaceful means, through diplomacy,” President Barack Obama said yesterday in an interview with NBC News. “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.”
Zarif said any concessions Iran makes at this stage will be reversible if there’s no reciprocal move from the U.S. He called on Obama to resist pressure for additional sanctions in Congress, where legislators are deciding whether to introduce a measure to tighten the curbs.
The accord sought in Geneva would be intended as a first step toward a comprehensive deal to remove the specter of another Middle East war. The U.S. and Israel say they’re willing to use force to stop Iran getting nuclear bombs, which Iran denies seeking. Hassan Rouhani’s election as Iran’s president in June and his pledge to restore an economy squeezed by the sanctions has given new momentum to diplomacy.
Iran has signaled it’s willing to make compromises, shelving a demand for immediate recognition on the right to enrich uranium, and saying it may be ready to limit its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity.
Efforts toward an accord have run into opposition that leaders on both sides are seeking to assuage.
Some U.S. lawmakers, with support from Israel, are pushing for sanctions to be tightened, not eased. While the Senate Banking Committee is preparing to discuss legislation imposing new curbs on Iran, its chairman, Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, said that no timetable has been set.
Before flying to Geneva today, Kerry returned to Israel for an unscheduled round of talks with Netanyahu, who yesterday said any deal easing the pressure on Iran would be “a mistake of historic proportions.” U.S. allies among Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, also have signaled reservations.
Netanyahu told reporters before meeting Kerry today that Israel “utterly rejects” and “is not obliged by this agreement,” which is emerging on Iran.
“I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva, as well they should be, because they got everything and paid nothing,” Netanyahu said. “Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal. This is a very bad deal.”
A group of 79 former U.S. military officials and diplomats, including three former ambassadors to Israel, expressed backing for the pursuit of a diplomatic solution, calling it an “ambitious and transformative course” toward a more peaceful Middle East in an open letter to Obama.
Iranian conservatives have criticized Rouhani and Zarif for taking too soft an approach. In a speech on Nov. 3, the eve of anti-American rallies in Iran to mark the anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a message of support for the negotiators. He said they’re “sons of the revolution,” carrying out a mission that he endorses.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who monitor Iran’s 17 declared nuclear facilities are due to fly to Tehran next week. They’re seeking access to sites that they’ve been barred from visiting, to investigate a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program.
“Iran has to understand that significant sanctions relief cannot happen if it’s not going to cooperate with the IAEA and solve these basic concerns,” David Albright, a founder of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, said on a conference call yesterday.
The Geneva meetings between the Iranian delegation and officials from the U.S., China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the European Union, were scheduled to end today.
Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araghchi, said an agreement may require extending them into a third day, or holding another round of talks. Araghchi and U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman had a separate meeting yesterday that lasted about an hour, according to a State Department official who asked not to be named in line with department policy.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Geneva at email@example.com; Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Geneva at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kambiz Foroohar in New York at email@example.com