Iran Accord Seen Near as Top Diplomats Flock to Geneva
World powers are sending their top diplomats to Geneva for an unscheduled third day of talks with Iran, signaling a possible agreement to break the decade-long stalemate over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
The Chinese and Russian foreign ministers are due to join their French, German, U.K. and U.S. counterparts today in the Swiss city, where negotiators have been seeking for the past two days to complete an initial accord.
“Foreign ministers don’t show up to be embarrassed,” said Jim Walsh, a security analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who has traveled to Iran for talks with nuclear officials. “They’re in town because they’re close enough to a deal to come.”
The world powers are seeking to curtail a nuclear program that they say may have military purposes. The U.S. and Israel have said they’re willing to use force to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons if diplomacy doesn’t work. The Persian Gulf nation of 80 million people says its nuclear work is peaceful and wants the trade curbs that have squeezed its economy to be loosened.
Negotiators were discussing details yesterday after agreeing on a framework on the first day, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran has been offered “limited, targeted and reversible relief” from sanctions in return for concrete and verifiable concessions on its nuclear work, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.
‘Lots of Work’
There is “no certainty” that an agreement will be reached today, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a radio interview with France Inter. The document the sides are working on isn’t acceptable at present, he said.
This week’s objective is an accord that would serve as a first step toward a comprehensive agreement. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a message of support on Twitter late yesterday for Iran’s negotiators, who have been criticized by conservatives at home for conceding too much.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said after yesterday’s session ended that there’s still “lots of work to do.” Secretary of State John Kerry had earlier tempered expectations on his arrival, saying there were still “important gaps that have to be closed.”
Kerry, who met with Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for five hours yesterday, is expected to reconvene with his Iranian counterpart today.
In another sign of the renewed push for a deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency said its director, Yukiya Amano, will join inspectors arriving in Tehran on Nov. 11.
The agency, which monitors Iran’s 17 declared nuclear facilities, is seeking access to people and sites that they’ve been barred from visiting, to investigate a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program.
Kerry traveled to Geneva from Israel, where he’d met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the most outspoken critics of the recent diplomacy with Iran.
Netanyahu, who said yesterday that he “utterly rejects” any agreement that may emerge in Geneva, insists that Iran’s nuclear program must be dismantled in full. Iran is willing to limit the “size, scope and dimensions” of uranium enrichment without bringing it to a complete halt, Araghchi said.
Any agreement with Iran, holder of the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, would be “pretty bearish for oil,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts.
Brent crude for December settlement rose 1.6 percent yesterday after Kerry said a deal wasn’t assured.
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