Iran Nuclear Envoys Look to Deal as Netanyahu Goes to Moscow

Negotiators gathering in Geneva to end the decade-long deadlock over Iran’s nuclear work are looking to seal an accord in the face of Israeli objections.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met privately and a plenary session will be held at 6:00 p.m. local time today in the Swiss city, according to an EU statement. Negotiations between Iran and senior diplomats from China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. are expected to run at least through Nov. 22, organizers said.

“The last round of nuclear talks with Iran showed that a diplomatic resolution is possible,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement from Berlin. “We can succeed at the Geneva talks beginning today to take important first steps.”

The accord under consideration would deliver Iran limited sanctions relief in exchange for a verified halt to some elements of its nuclear work. The initial deal would last six months, during which time negotiations would continue over a comprehensive accord intended to ensure that Iran won’t make a nuclear weapon. The Islamic republic denies it wants one.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the proposed agreement, flew to Moscow today for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Jewish state has said it may consider a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to ensure that it can’t make nuclear weapons.

Normal Relations

In a speech to Basij militia today in Tehran, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated criticism of Israel while also underlining that his country wants normal relationships with other countries.

“We want to have friendly relations with all nations, even the U.S.,” Khamenei said live on state-run TV. “We have no enmity with any country. Our enmity is with the system of arrogance.”

Public comments from Iranian and Western officials suggest a deal is close. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed yesterday in a phone call -- the first such direct U.K.-Iranian contact in more than a decade -- to “seize the opportunity” in Geneva, according to a statement from Cameron’s office.

“There is every possibility for success of these talks,” Zarif said yesterday in Rome at a press conference after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino. “I go to Geneva with the determination to come out with an agreement at the end of this round. I hope we will.”

Could be the Week

President Barack Obama yesterday avoided making a prediction. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to close a deal this week or next week,” he said in remarks to a Wall Street Journal conference in Washington. “We have been very firm with the Iranians” about what is expected.

Obama -- criticized by some U.S. lawmakers and Israel for an impending deal they say isn’t tough enough -- yesterday met with key Senate and House members who pledged not to pursue additional sanctions against Iran until after Nov. 28.

“This could be the week the deal is done that sets Iran’s relations with the Western world off in a new positive direction,” Mark Fitzpatrick, director of non-proliferation at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies and a former U.S. State Department diplomat, said in a phone interview.

UN monitors verified last week that Iran had halted expansion of its most sensitive work after Rouhani assumed office in August. Iran’s declared nuclear facilities are monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that materials aren’t diverted to weapons use.

Wider Access

While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius helped kill an accord at the last meeting by insisting that reactor construction pause during negotiations, IAEA monitors reported Nov. 14 that Iran had already stopped building key elements at the facility.

“No major components, such as the control-room equipment, the refueling machine and reactor cooling pumps had been installed,” the IAEA said. Iran and the IAEA signed their first deal in six years on Nov. 11 that gives investigators wider access to Iranian facilities.

Iran has also offered to compromise over its so-called “right of enrichment.” There’s “no necessity for its recognition as a right” because it’s self-evident in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Zarif said on Nov. 17, according to Iran’s state-owned Iranian Students’ News Agency. Article 4 of the treaty says countries have an “inalienable right” to nuclear technology.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Geneva at jtirone@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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