Talks on curbing Iran’s nuclear program ended with no deal early yesterday, after France objected that proposed measures did not go far enough.
However, US Secretary of State John Kerry said “significant progress” had been made on the remaining differences.
Six world powers and Iran agreed to resume talks on Nov. 20. Both sides badly wanted agreement.
The US and its five partners were looking for initial caps on Iran’s ability to make an atomic bomb, while Tehran sought some easing of sanctions that are stifling its economy.
However, France would not soften its concerns over Iran’s plutonium project and the level of its uranium enrichment program.
Kerry, speaking to reporters after the talks broke up, acknowledged there were “certain issues that we needed to work through.”
“We’re grateful to the French for the work we did together,” Kerry said.
The talks showed the enormous complexity facing negotiators after a generation of mistrust between Iran and the West since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Any agreement would be a breakthrough after nearly a decade of mostly inconclusive discussions.
Still, Kerry’s talks in Geneva were the longest high-level negotiations between Iran and the US in decades — a sign of the improved atmosphere between the two countries since moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.
As the talks foundered after initial signs of progress, Kerry rushed to Geneva on Friday, followed by counterparts from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, to try to push through an agreement. That failed, with disputes between the two sides complicated by rare open dissent within the six powers. France rejected a joint list of demands on Iran, saying they were too generous to result in sanctions relief.
After the talks ended, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton spoke of “a lot of concrete progress,” but also of “some differences.”
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Javad Zarif said he hoped those disagreements will be resolved at a future meeting.
The two said the talks would resume on Nov. 20 with Ashton and Zarif in attendance, but the other delegations will be led by senior civil servants instead of foreign ministers.
Prospects for an agreement dimmed after French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius raised objections to a draft that the French had previously agreed to.
Fabius spoke of “several points that ... we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” telling France-Inter Radio his nation does not want to be part of a “con game.”
Although Kerry publicly played down the differences with Fabius, other diplomats at the talks said the last-minute objections came as a surprise and complicated the chances of agreement.
They demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the closed negotiations.
Iran’s Arak reactor southeast of Tehran could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year once it goes online, which is expected to happen next year.