Israel, which sharply criticized the interim agreement reached in November between the world powers and Iran regarding its nuclear program, remained tightlipped on Tuesday amid Iranian claims the sides made good progress in talks in Geneva on implementing the agreement, and were heading toward a deal in late January.
While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was unrelenting in his criticism of the November 24 agreement before it was signed, he has been quiet in the face of delays implementing the deal, and his office had no comment as Iranian officials said the talks held on Monday and Tuesday in Geneva yielded progress.
It was unclear how close the seven countries came to resolving all the numerous practical issues involved in putting the accord into practice or whether they had agreed on a date to implement it after all-night talks.
An Iranian nuclear negotiator, Hamid Baeidinejad, said a date was agreed on Tuesday.
“Based on the conclusions [reached in] the talks held with... expert delegations, the implementation of the Geneva accord will start in the third 10-day of January,” Iranian Press TV quoted Baeidinejad as saying. “The two sides managed to reach an understanding on the implementation of the agreement and now, their views and interpretations are the same.”
Abbas Araqchi, the Islamic Republic’s deputy negotiator, told Iran’s state news agency only that some issues remained to be agreed upon at a more senior level.
The Geneva gathering was the third time since the accord was signed that nuclear experts and sanctions specialists from the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany had met with their Iranian counterparts to work out the implementation of the agreement In the meeting, which started on Monday and lasted nearly 23 hours, the sides again sought to agree how exactly Iran would meet its obligation to suspend some uranium enrichment and how Western governments would ease sanctions in return.
“The last meeting... resulted in good progress,” IRNA quoted Araqchi as saying.
“The experts will present their reports to deputies and political directors because some of the remaining issues need to be resolved at the political level.”
Officials from the European Union, which coordinates contacts with Iran on behalf of the six nations, declined to immediately comment. So far, a key sticking point appears to be how much notice Iran will give Western governments that it is meeting its end of the deal before they lift the agreed-upon sanctions.
Araqchi said it was likely he would meet with Helga Schmid, the deputy to the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, to discuss some issues further next week.
The technical talks started on December 9, but Iran broke them off briefly after the United States blacklisted additional 19 Iranian companies and individuals under its existing sanctions.
On Sunday, before the talks began, Netanyahu, warned that Iran was developing advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium six times faster than the centrifuges it now has available.
Israel, which also warned before the agreement that the deal would open the door to a breakdown of the sanctions against Iran, also had no response to a Reuters report on Tuesday that China may buy more Iranian oil next year. State trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp. is negotiating a new light crude contract that could raise imports from Tehran to levels not seen since tough Western sanctions were imposed in 2012, running the risk of upsetting Washington.
Israeli officials said that Iran was a major topic of discussion two weeks ago when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a visit, though they would not say what was discussed or whether Tehran made any commitments.
But industry sources say Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp., which Washington sanctioned in early 2012 for supplying gasoline to Iran, is in talks with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for a new contract for condensate.
However, it was not clear how much of the light crude would be imported through any new deal. “If they do step up imports from Iran, they are risking more sanctions from the US,” said a trader with a Western trading house that sells to China.
“The Chinese government may make some noises if overall imports from Iran rise too much, but not if there is a slight increase.”
A Zhenrong representative declined to comment on any negotiations and whether they ran the risk of putting the company under pressure from Washington.
“More pressure? Do you think they really care?” said a former Zhenrong trader. Zhenrong, with no investments in the United States that could be targeted, has long thought it could be folded into a larger state company as a crude oil desk and probably has few concerns about any future sanctions, he said.