Ashton, Zarif before Geneval nuclear talks November 20, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
WASHINGTON – Diplomats arrived in Geneva from around the world on Wednesday to
discuss Iran’s nuclear program for a third time since October, hoping this round
might achieve an interim agreement that will arrest the international crisis for
a period of six months.
Entering the talks with other members of the P5+1
– the US, the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – the US government
expressed cautious optimism that the group could reach a “first step” deal with
Iran that would halt significant aspects of its expansive nuclear program in
exchange for limited sanctions relief.
But despite the optimistic tone,
the US seemed eager to dampen expectations going into the talks. In a meeting
earlier in the week at the White House, US President Barack Obama told a
bipartisan group of senators
– pressing the president not to lift
disproportionate pressure off Iran – that the deal in progress was not a fait
“I think we can” reach the deal, one senior US administration
official told journalists on Wednesday. “Whether we will, we will have to see,
because it is hard. It is very hard.”
Financial relief on the table would
be “comparable” to concessions made by the Islamic Republic, State Department
spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, as negotiations began in Switzerland
between the seven parties.
US Secretary of State Kerry cleared his
schedule of travel commitments for the rest of the week, anticipating he might
be needed at the negotiating table to clinch the agreement. The State Department
said on Wednesday that the secretary is ready and willing to make the trip to
narrow the gaps.
Until then, Under Secretary of State for Political
Affairs Wendy Sherman is leading the US delegation. Sherman was deeply involved
in negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions throughout the
1990s, and has personally met with her Iranian counterparts on a bilateral level
in recent weeks.
Psaki cautioned that the government of Iranian President
Hassan Rouhani faces difficulties of its own as it entered the talks.
know that there are difficult politics in Iran,” she said at the daily press
“Moving toward an agreement is not easy, politically, on their
And while Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he hopes for a “result” from the summit
, he spent the day in private talks with
angered Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, warning Russia over the possible fallout from a “bad” Geneva
Tensions were aggravated after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei ripped at Israel’s interference in the talks
– and the very existence
of the Jewish state in the Middle East.
“The enemies of Iran sometimes –
and particularly the rabid dog of the region, the Zionist regime – malevolently
claim that Iran is a threat to the entire world,” Khamenei said, vowing that
Israel is doomed to extinction and characterizing France’s opposition to an
interim nuclear deal in the last round of talks an effort to do Netanyahu’s
Asked about the exchange, the State Department said that the
negotiations are in a “particularly sensitive” moment, sensitive to inflammatory
“Iran must offer answers and not a certain number of
provocative statements,” French President François Hollande said in response to