EU's Ashton and Iran FM Zarif 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
GENEVA - World powers resumed efforts to clinch a preliminary deal to curb Iran's nuclear program at talks in Geneva on Wednesday, with Russia and Britain confident that agreement can be reached.
Seeking to end a long standoff and head off the risk of a wider Middle East war, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany came close to winning concessions from Iran on its nuclear work in return for some sanctions relief at negotiations earlier this month.
Policymakers from the six have since said that an interim accord on confidence-building steps could finally be within reach, despite warnings from diplomats that differences remain and could still prevent an agreement.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the remaining differences are narrow and a historic deal is within reach.
"It is the best chance for a long time to make progress on one of the gravest problems in foreign policy," Hague told a news conference during a visit to Istanbul.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier: "We hope the efforts that are being made will be crowned with success at the meeting that opens today in Geneva."
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran would not step back from its nuclear rights
and he had set "red lines" for his negotiators in Geneva. But Tehran wanted friendly ties with all countries.
"We want to have friendly relations with all nations and peoples. The Islamic system isn't even hostile to the nation of America, although with regards to Iran and the Islamic system, the American government is arrogant, malicious and vindictive," Khamenei said, according to his official website.
Khamenei also criticized France, which had spoken against the deal as proposed earlier, for "succumbing to the United States" and "kneeling before the Israeli regime". France said the comments were unacceptable.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Russia on Wednesday
to appeal for tougher terms in any accord with Iran after failing to convince the United States that world powers are pursuing a bad deal.
Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat and wants its uranium enrichment capabilities dismantled and its enriched uranium removed.The last meeting with the six powers
stumbled over Iran's insistence that its "right" to enrich uranium be recognized, and disagreement over its work on a heavy-water reactor near Arak, which could yield plutonium for atomic bombs once it becomes operational.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has since indicated a way around the first sticking point, saying Tehran has the right to refine uranium but is not insisting others recognize that right.A UN report last week
showed Iran had stopped expanding its enrichment of uranium and had not added major new components at Arak since August, when moderate Hassan Rouhani replaced hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president.
Nuclear analyst Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the "body language" showed that the sides were ready for a deal, pointing to Iran slowing its nuclear push and Washington refraining, so far, from imposing more sanctions.
"(They) have demonstrated that they are looking to transform stumbling blocks into stepping stones," Vaez said.