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Iran nuclear talks stretch into third day

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-11-09

Talks between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear programme continued into a third day on Saturday amid rising hopes a deal can be reached, though US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that key issues remain "unresolved".

Talks between Iran and world powers stretched into a third day on Saturday as top diplomats pressed for a deal on Tehran's nuclear programme, warning that major obstacles remain.

After cutting short a Middle East tour to attend the talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry struck a note of caution as he joined his British, French and German counterparts who converged on Geneva on Friday.

"There is not an agreement at this point," Kerry told reporters. "There are still some very important issues on the table that are unresolved."

But hopes were rising for a deal, especially as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was expected to arrive in Geneva on Saturday.

Lavrov's arrival would bring together the foreign ministers of all but one of the six world powers that have been negotiating for a decade with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU chief diplomat Catherine Ashton, who has represented world powers at the talks, held a long meeting late into the night on Friday.

It broke up around 11:30 pm local time (1030 GMT), with Kerry saying afterward only that it had involved "a lot of work".

"Over the course of the evening, we continued to make progress as we worked to narrow the gaps. There is more work to do. The meetings will resume tomorrow morning," a senior State Department official said.

"The meeting was productive but we still have lots of work to do," Iran's lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, also said after the talks, confirming the negotiations would continue on Saturday.

If some sort of agreement is reached, it would be a breakthrough after a decade of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group comprising the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The hoped-for agreement -- seen as a first step ahead of further talks on a final deal -- could see Tehran freeze its nuclear efforts for as long as six months in exchange for some relief from the sanctions that have battered its economy.

Reports say the proposed deal could see Tehran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, which is just a few technical steps from weapons grade, reduce existing stockpiles and agree not to activate its plutonium reactor at Arak.

Global powers would in exchange take limited and "reversible" measures to ease sanctions, such as unfreezing some Iranian funds in foreign accounts.

'Deal of the century'

Negotiators would then have time to work out a more comprehensive deal that Tehran has said it hopes could be in place within a year.

The possible deal already came fire under from Israel, which has staunchly opposed any easing of sanctions against Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hosted Kerry on a brief stopover before Geneva, urged world powers to back away from the agreement.

"Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal, this is a very bad deal. Israel utterly rejects it," Netanyahu told reporters.

Washington rejected the Israeli criticism, with White House spokesman Josh Earnest saying aboard Air Force One: "There is no deal. Any critique of the deal is premature."

US President Barack Obama also called Netanyahu after his remarks, the White House said.

"The president provided the prime minister with an update on negotiations in Geneva and underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," a White House statement said.

"The president and prime minister agreed to continue to stay in touch on this issue," the statement said, adding that Obama reiterated his commitment to preventing Tehran getting a nuclear bomb.

Iran has repeatedly denied its nuclear programme is for anything other than generating electricity and for medical purposes.

But the world powers in the talks -- which include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which has issued multiple resolutions against Iran's uranium enrichment -- suspect Tehran's programme was aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

The head of the UN atomic watchdog, Yukiya Amano, will travel to Tehran on Monday to discuss "technical issues" related to monitoring of Iran's nuclear programme, the agency said in a statement.

The two paths of talks with Iran over its atomic activities were given new momentum by the June election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, seen as a relative moderate.

Iran is anxious for relief from crippling US and EU economic sanctions that have cut oil revenues by more than half, caused the value of the rial to plunge and pushed inflation above 40 percent.

The West is also keen to seize a rare opportunity to build bridges with Iran after decades of hostility, opening the door to engaging with Tehran on other issues such as the conflict in Syria, where Iran has backed President Bashar al-Assad against insurgents.


Date created : 2013-11-08

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