World powers and Iran held a third day of crunch talks on Tehran’s nuclear program yesterday, with top diplomats saying progress was being made, but there was no certainty of a deal.
Adding diplomatic weight to the negotiations, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov had arrived in Geneva, where his US, British, French and German counterparts rushed on Friday hoping to seal a breakthrough.
The hoped-for agreement — seen as a first step ahead of further talks on a final deal — could see Tehran freeze its nuclear efforts for as long as six months in exchange for some relief from the sanctions that have battered its economy.
Western officials, including US Secretary of State John Kerry — who cut short a Middle East tour to join the talks — have expressed caution, warning that major obstacles remain to be overcome.
Yet hopes were nonetheless high that a breakthrough first-stage agreement was in the works.
“These negotiations have made very good progress and continue to make progress,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told journalists, adding though that it was “too early” to be sure a deal could be reached yesterday.
France in particular was considered to have concerns about the deal, with French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius saying there were “some points on which we are not satisfied.”
“There is an initial draft that we do not accept ... I have no certainty that we can finish up” at this stage, Fabius told France Inter radio before talks started.
In a series of meetings early yesterday, Kerry and the European ministers met with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who has represented the six world powers at the talks.
Fabius then entered separate talks with Ashton and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Kerry, Ashton and Zarif were to hold talks later yesterday, after the three met until nearly midnight on Friday.
If some sort of agreement is reached, it would be a breakthrough after a decade of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group comprising the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Reports say the proposed deal could see Tehran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, which is just a few technical steps from weapons-grade, reduce existing stockpiles and agree not to activate its plutonium reactor at Arak.
Global powers would in exchange take limited and “reversible” measures to ease sanctions and negotiators would then have time to work out a more comprehensive deal that Tehran has said it hopes could be in place within a year.