Saturday 16 December 2017

Differences slow Iran nuclear talks

Iranian students join hands while forming a human chain around the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear programme (AP)
Iranian students join hands while forming a human chain around the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear programme (AP)

Seven-nation talks aimed at reaching a deal on Iran's nuclear programme have been delayed.

Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton sat down with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva to discuss a draft deal.

As the two broke for lunch, Mr Zarif said the two were discussing "details and wording" of the document but pointed to what his country sees as a potential problem ahead.

"We expect the West to have a united stance over the draft," he told Iranian state TV, alluding to what Iran says were complications to reaching a first-step deal at the last round earlier this month because of differences among the six world powers.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi suggested those differences had set back the talks. He said: "What we are trying now is to rebuild confidence that we lost in the previous round of negotiations." He spoke of some unspecified "misunderstanding or ... mismanagement in the previous round," and of the "difficult job" of trying to bridge differences.

A follow-up between Lady Ashton and Mr Araghchi appeared to make some headway, however, with Mr Araghchi telling Iran's IRNA news agency that "we regained some of our lost trust".

He also said talks have included possible ways to reduce sanctions on Iranian oil sales and banking. The US and its partners have spoken of offering some financial concessions, such as unfreezing Iranian bank accounts from previous oil sales.

If the talks produce a deal to freeze Iran's nuclear efforts, negotiators will pursue a more comprehensive agreement that would ensure that Tehran's programme is solely for civilian purposes. Iran would get some sanctions relief under such a first-step deal, without any easing of the harshest measures - those crippling its ability to sell oil, its main revenue maker.

A member of the Iranian delegation said his country recognizes that core oil and banking sanctions could not be lifted immediately but suggested Iran was looking for some relief in those sectors over the six-month time-frame of a first-step agreement.

He also indicated that Iran was ready to discuss a limit on its uranium enrichment - which can create both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads. But he suggested that Iran wants at least indirect mention of Tehran's insistence that it has a right to uranium enrichment - something the United States and its allies have resisted.

Iran has suggested it could curb its highest-known level of enrichment - at 20% - in a possible deal that could ease the US-led economic sanctions.

But Iranian leaders have made clear that their country will not consider giving up its ability to make nuclear fuel - the centerpiece of the talks since the same process used to make reactor stock can be used to make weapons-grade material.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin, renewed his demand for a full stop to all Iranian nuclear programs that could be turned from peaceful uses to making weapons. Israel wants a settlement that is "genuine and real," he said.

He urged the world to see the "real Iran." That, he said was not a YouTube message from Mr Zarif saying Iran wanted peace, but supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling Jews "rabid dogs."

"They must not have nuclear weapons," he told a gathering of Russian Jews. "And I promise you that they will not have nuclear weapons."

AP

Press Association

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