US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif met for two hours in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday in another round of nuclear talks to try to narrow gaps as they pressed against a March 31 deadline to reach a political agreement.
The meeting included for the first time US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi, who spent most of the day separately negotiating technical details of curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
The talks were set to resume yesterday before Kerry returns to Washington in time to testify before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee today on the US Department of State’s budget request for next year.
Zarif told Iranian state media that mid-level bilateral talks had produced “good discussions, but no agreements,” and some differences remained.
“The fundamental gap, in my view, is psychological. Some Western countries, the United States in particular, see sanctions as an asset, a lever to exert pressure on Iran. As long as this thinking persists it will be very hard, difficult to reach a settlement,” he said.
Zarif said the inclusion of Moniz and Salehi reflected a need “for higher level people with all-embracing command over all issues.”
The presence of a close aide and the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereydoon, meant better “coordination with the president,” he added.
The talks took place behind closed doors with no customary photograph opportunity for journalists covering the meetings.
On Saturday, Kerry cautioned against reading too much into the presence of Moniz in Geneva, which US officials said was decided after Iran announced Salahi would attend.
The negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1” powers — the US, Britain, Germany, Russia and China, in addition to Germany — have reached a sensitive stage with divisions remaining, mainly over Iranian uranium enrichment and the pace of removing sanctions.
A recent UN report said Iran had refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with the six world powers. Development of advanced centrifuges is feared to lead to material potentially suitable for the manufacture of nuclear bombs.
Iran says it does not intend to develop atomic bombs.
Kerry said US President Barack Obama was not inclined to extend the talks again. The parties already missed a November last year target date.
Obama believed it was “imperative to be able to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time space that we have left,” Kerry said.
Zarif said Rouhani would not accept a small, short-term agreement, nor a broad accord that left room for interpretation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, increasingly critical of US policy, said it was “astonishing” that the talks, which could end by allowing Iran “to develop the nuclear capabilities that threaten our existence,” were proceeding.
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