Iran and representatives from the US, China, Britain, France and Germany still hadn't reached a deal over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme late Saturday as high-level negotiations continued in Geneva.
Despite earlier optimism, talks being held in Geneva over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme failed to reach a deal by late Saturday, with talks set to continue late into the night.
While the negotiations had perhaps gotten closer to a deal than at any other time in the past ten years, differences still divided the diplomats. Iran said it cannot accept any agreement with the six major powers that does not recognize what it describes as its right to enrich uranium, a demand the United States and its European allies have repeatedly rejected.
"Any agreement without recognizing Iran’s right to enrich, practically and verbally, will be unacceptable for Tehran," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters.
The discussions were boosted this weekend by the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had decided to join the talks in their fourth day “in light of the progress being made” and with “the hope that an agreement will be reached”, according to Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
But with Kerry's departure imminent, it looked like negotiations will go to another round.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of "very difficult" negotiations, saying "narrow gaps'' remained on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round of talks earlier this month.
"We're not here because things are necessarily finished,'' Hague told reporters. "We're here because they're difficult, and they remain difficult.''
A possible deal
Western powers want an agreement that Iran will curb its atomic activity, which they fear could lead to the manufacture of nuclear bombs, in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
Before Saturday’s talks, diplomats said a compromise had been proposed over Iran’s insistence that its “right” to enrich uranium be internationally recognized, possibly opening the way to a breakthrough.
The United States and other Western powers say there is no such thing as a right to enrich - a process that can yield both electricity and nuclear bombs - but Iran sees it as a matter of national sovereignty that is crucial to any deal.
Iran also wants relief from economic sanctions in return for making any nuclear concessions that could allay the West’s suspicions that its nuclear fuel-making programme has military rather than civilian goals.
Despite these differences, on the eve of their arrival, several diplomats had expressed optimism, with some going as far as to say “considerable progress” had been made.
A senior European diplomat told reporters earlier that foreign ministers of the six states would come to Geneva only if there was a deal to sign. “We have made progress, including core issues,” the diplomat said.
Still, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who spoke out against a draft deal floated at the negotiating round that ended on November 9, appeared guarded. “I hope we can reach a deal, but a solid deal. I am here to work on that,” he said.
France has consistently taken a tough line over Iran’s nuclear program, which has resulted in Paris forging closer ties with Tehran’s foes in Israel and the Gulf.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Geneva on Friday evening and met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, a Russian spokeswoman said.
Hopes for an interim deal
In the days running up to these talks, policymakers from the six powers said an interim accord on confidence-building steps could be within reach. This would start a cautious process of detente with Iran and weaken the spectre of a wider Middle East war.
Iranian suspension of some sensitive nuclear activities, above all medium-level uranium enrichment, is being debated. Sanctions relief offered in return could involve releasing some Iranian funds frozen in foreign bank accounts and allowing trade in precious metals, petrochemicals and aircraft parts.
The United States might also agree to relax pressure on other countries not to buy Iranian oil.
Diplomacy on Tehran’s nuclear aspirations has revived remarkably since the election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as president in June. He had promised to win sanctions relief and diminish Iran’s international isolation.
But the nations involved have struggled to wrap up a deal, bogged down in political details and hampered by long-standing mutual mistrust.
In Geneva, last-minute discussions wrapped up around midnight on Friday. Diplomats said new compromise language being discussed did not explicitly recognise a right to produce nuclear fuel by any country. “If you speak about the right to a peaceful nuclear programme, that’s open to interpretation,” a diplomat told Reuters, without elaborating.
The fate of Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor project - a potential source of an alternative bomb material, plutonium - and the extent of sanctions relief were among the other stumbling blocks, diplomats said.
Iran, an OPEC producer, rejects suspicions it is covertly trying to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.
Israel has continued its public criticism of the offer of sanctions rollbacks for Iran, saying all it would achieve would be more time for Iran to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.
“I think right now the international community ... has all the leverage to roll back its (Iran’s) nuclear-making capacities,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Channel Rossia in Moscow on Friday.
“It’s a pity, just when they have this maximum leverage, that they’re backing off and essentially giving Iran an unbelievable Christmas present - the capacity to maintain this breakout capability for practically no concessions at all.”
For the powers, an interim deal would involve a halt to Iran’s enrichment of uranium to a purity of 20 percent - a major technical step towards making bombs - more sweeping UN nuclear inspections in Iran, and a shutdown of Arak reactor. The US has only limited flexibility in negotiations because of scepticism in its Congress about the benefits of cutting any deal with Tehran.
US Senate majority leader Harry Reid said on Thursday he was committed to pursuing a tougher Iran sanctions bill when the Senate returns from a recess early next month - even though President Barack Obama has warned that could derail diplomacy in Geneva.
If a preliminary agreement is reached for a six-month suspension of some of Iran’s most sensitive nuclear activity, the six powers and Tehran will use that time to hammer out a broader and longer-term accord.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2013-11-23