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Middle east

World powers meet Iran for nuclear talks in Geneva

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-15

World powers and Iranian delegates met Tuesday in Geneva to revive stalled talks over Iran's controversial nuclear ambitions, with the West considering easing sanctions if Tehran takes “concrete and verifiable" steps.

The United States held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief for Iran on Monday if Tehran moves swiftly to calm concerns about its nuclear programme, although both countries said any deal would be complex and would take time.

Six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – will hold talks with Iran on its nuclear programme in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“No one should expect a breakthrough overnight,” a senior US administration official told reporters.

Any potential sanctions relief, one official said, would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table”.

“I’m sure they will disagree about what is proportionate,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. “But we are quite clear about what the menu of options are and what will match what.”

In a hint that Washington may be serious about easing sanctions, the US delegation at the talks includes one of its leading sanctions experts – Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The European Union’s top sanctions official has also joined the bloc’s delegation at the talks, which are being led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

'Very positive environment'

Iran said that talks on Tuesday had taken place in a “very positive environment” but declined to reveal the specifics of the proposals being discussed.

"We presented our proposals in a very positive environment and the reaction was good," said Iran’s senior negotiator, Abbas Aragchi.

"The climate of the meeting was very good and very constructive. The proposal that we have introduced has the capacity to make a breakthrough in the negotiations," Aragchi told reporters.

Since 2006, Iran has continuously rejected UN Security Council demands that it halt uranium enrichment and has continued to expand its nuclear fuel programme, leading to increasingly harsh sanctions.

Iran says that its nuclear programme is peaceful.

But FRANCE 24’s Vicky Morris, reporting from Geneva, said officials there were hopeful of positive gestures from Iran.

“Tehran could secure relief from the sanctions that have been hampering its external trade and that have pushed inflation up to 37 percent,” she said.

This week’s meeting follows the June election of President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate who says he wants to thaw Iran’s icy relations with the West to secure the removal of punitive sanctions that have hobbled its oil-based economy.

Foreign ministers from the so-called “P5+1” nations – including US Secretary of State John Kerry – met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month when they announced the plan for this week’s meeting.

A day after the UN meeting, President Barack Obama and Rohani spoke by telephone, the highest level US-Iranian contact since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.

Deal in six months

Rohani said in New York last month that he wanted a deal with the P5+1 within three to six months, although Zarif played down expectations that an agreement would be reached this week.

“Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward,” Zarif said on his Facebook page late on Sunday. “I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution.

“But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level,” he said.

The US official said the Obama administration was encouraged that Rohani, who avoids the strident anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had a mandate to “pursue a more moderate course”.

But Tehran must be put to the test, he added.

“That is what we will be doing over the coming days,” the official said, noting that “no one is naive about the challenges we face about pursuing the diplomatic path”.

“We need to see concrete verifiable actions,” he said. “We go into these meetings clear-eyed that we have very, very, very difficult work to do. We are going to make judgements based on actions of the Iranian government, not simply its words, although we appreciate the change in its tone.”

Israel warns against ending sanctions

The US official added that Washington had three priorities regarding Iranian assurances about its nuclear programme: Tehran must take steps on the production of nuclear and related material, ensure transparency of the programme and take steps regarding its stockpile of nuclear material.

In the past, the six powers have demanded, among other things, that Iran halt uranium enrichment, particularly to 20 percent fissile purity, move stockpiles of enriched uranium out of the country and close down the Fordow enrichment plant, buried inside a mountain south of Tehran.

Iran on Sunday rejected the demand that it send enriched uranium abroad but signalled flexibility on other items.

Israel, widely believed to be the only Middle East state with atomic weapons, has warned the West not to ease sanctions before Tehran has addressed fears about its nuclear ambitions.

An Israeli official said on Saturday that Netanyahu had phoned British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande to tell them that the sanctions were close to achieving their goal.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-10-15

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