by Jasmin Ramsey
Geneva — Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said this morning that it’s too soon to say whether an agreement would be signed but the arrival of his P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) counterparts in Geneva shows that the talks over his country’s nuclear program have “reached a serious stage.”
“We hope this is a sign that the other side has political determination and goodwill,” the lead Iranian nuclear negotiator told Iran’s Channel One.
He added that the “difficult task” of writing an agreement has been reached but “every word and expression has its own meaning and requires caution.”
“What I can say is that the Iranian delegation will resist any unfair demands by the other side,” he said.
Zarif did not provide details on a reported gridlock over Iran’s Arak facility, which was presented during the last round of talks (Nov. 7-9) as a key concern by P5+1 member, France, but reiterated that any agreement must include Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
Mr. Zarif did not specify whether that requirement needed to be explicitly included as a line in any text agreement.
The presence of the Foreign Ministers of all negotiating countries has once again raised expectations that a deal could be signed during round III of negotiations here in Geneva.
A deal seemed just within reach during the last round of talks here but Zarif and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton concluded late on Nov. 9 with a joint statement saying that “A lot of concrete progress has been achieved but some differences remain.”
As of this writing there is no official indication that this round of talks, which began on Nov. 20, has resulted in the resolution of the outstanding issues that impeded a deal last round, or whether new issues have emerged.
“We’re not here because things are necessarily finished,” UK Foreign Minister William Hague told reporters on Saturday.
“We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult.”
The EU Foreign Policy Chief Lady Ashton has been serving as a key contact between the Iranian delegation and the other P5+1 countries for this round of negotiations.
Her 20-minute morning meeting today with France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was followed by another meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived early this morning.
Meetings are expected to continue throughout the day as negotiators try to reach a deal.
The details of that deal, which diplomats here are trying to reach and keep under wraps — but have been emerging since talks began in Geneva in October — were provided to the New York Times today by officials involved in the talks.
Among other steps, Iran would reportedly be required to freeze its production of 20-percent enriched uranium and put its existing stockpile under strict monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) pending its conversion into oxide; limit all of its enrichment to not more than 3.5 percent; and delay fueling its yet-to-be-completed Arak heavy-water facility, which is designed to produce plutonium for its nuclear industry.
In return, Iran would receive what U.S. officials have called “limited but reversible” relief from sanctions on its trade in petrochemicals and precious metals, and access to as much as 10 billion dollars of its foreign exchange reserves that are currently frozen in Western bank accounts.
“The proposed deal is in America’s national interest and would improve security for the U.S. and its regional allies,” Jim Walsh, an international security expert at MIT, told IPS on Nov 20.
“The primary concern of nonproliferation experts is the threat posed by 20-percent enrichment, and this deal ends that,” said Walsh.