FM Cites Progress in Nuclear Talks

FM Cites Progress in Nuclear TalksFM Cites Progress in Nuclear Talks

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif cited some progress in the latest round of nuclear talks in Geneva, saying the negotiations will resume next Monday.    

"We held serious, useful and constructive talks with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), particularly with the American side... We made progress on some issues to some extent, but still there is a long way to reach a final agreement," the chief negotiator told reporters after his meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the Swiss city on Monday, according to a press release issued by the foreign ministry.

Zarif said, "We decided to continue the talks next week on the sidelines of the session of the Human Rights Council (March 2-27)."

He also thanked Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) director Ali Akbar Salehi for his "useful" and "effective" presence at the Geneva talks.

In addition, the senior diplomat reiterated, "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, so discussions will continue."    


Zarif and Kerry held two days of talks on Sunday and Monday in Geneva to narrow gaps in the negotiating positions in the broader talks between Iran and the six major powers (the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany) on a comprehensive deal to resolve the 12-year dispute over Tehran's nuclear work.

Salehi and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz were also present at the Zarif-Kerry meetings to provide advice on technical aspects.

Deputy Foreign Ministers Abbas Araqchi and Majid Takht-Ravanchi and Helga Schmid, political director of the European Union's External Action Service, joined the Zarif-Kerry talks on Monday.

Iran and the six powers also held a meeting at the level of political directors on Sunday and an expert-level meeting on Monday.

Iran and the major powers are in talks to build on an interim nuclear agreement they signed in Geneva in November 2013 to work out a final accord, which would place constraints on Tehran's nuclear activities for a specified period of time in exchange for the phasing out of sanctions. They are set to reach a political understanding on the basic framework of a final settlement by the end of March and finalize the details of the deal until a self-imposed June 30 deadline.

***Fifty-Fifty Chance

The Obama administration said on Monday the prospects for a successful nuclear deal with Iran are "fifty-fifty at best," despite reports that US and Iranian negotiators moved closer over the weekend to an agreement that would allow Tehran to ramp up its nuclear activities over time after accepting initial curbs on its nuclear work, according to the Washington Times.


White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama administration officials "continue to be realistic about the likelihood of success."  

US President Barack Obama has repeatedly in recent months said the chances of a deal with Tehran are less than even, Earnest noted. "I think that continues to be a fair assessment of where things stand."

His comments came after the Associated Press reported on the same day that US and Iranian negotiators are working on a deal that would limit Tehran's nuclear program for at least a decade before providing it leeway over the remainder of the agreement to gradually step up activities.

***Phased Deal

The AP said the US and Iran are shaping the contours of a deal that would initially freeze Tehran's nuclear program but would allow it to slowly ramp up nuclear activities over the last years of the agreement's duration.

It quoted officials from some of the six major powers as saying that details still needed to be agreed on.

Western officials familiar with the talks cited long-awaited progress on some elements that would have to go into a comprehensive deal. They described the discussions as a moving target, however, meaning changes in any one area would have repercussions for other parts of the negotiation.

The idea would be to reward Iran for good conduct over the last years of any agreement, by gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program imposed as part of a deal that would also slowly ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The US initially sought restrictions lasting for up to 20 years; Iran had pushed for less than a decade.

Iran could be able to operate significantly more centrifuges than the US administration first demanded, though at lower capacity than they currently run. Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise.

If the sides agree on 15 years, for instance, the strict controls could be in place for 10 years with gradual lifting over five. Possible easing of the controls could see Iran increasing the number of enriching centrifuges back toward the 10,000 or so it now has operating, and then increasing the level of enrichment while keeping it well below levels approaching weapons-grade.

The officials representing different countries among the six powers negotiating with Iran spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the negotiations.

The Americans are talking about similarly phasing in measures to ease the sanctions burden on Tehran. Several steps would come immediately through executive action by the US president, the officials said. Other sanctions would be suspended, but not lifted, as Iran demonstrates its compliance with its obligations. A lesser amount of restrictions would stay in place until the US Congress acts to remove them permanently.

Tehran has announced that sanctions should be scrapped swiftly under any final agreement.

Still unclear is the status of Iran's underground enrichment facility at Fordo and heavy water reactor at Arak.

Reuters also quoted a senior US administration official as saying on Monday that the US made some progress in talks with Iran on its nuclear program and managed to "sharpen up some of the tough issues."

"These were very serious, useful and constructive discussions. We have made some progress but we still have a long way to go. We did very much sharpen up some of the tough issues so we can work to resolution," the US official told reporters.