‘Hard talks’ resume in Geneva over Tehran’s nuclear program

US administration official says while deal is possible, it will be hard to reach; Kerry clears schedule to be available for talks.

Ashton, Zarif before Geneval nuclear talks November 20, 2013 (photo credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
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 accompli.
“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.
“We know that there are difficult politics in Iran,” she said at the daily press briefing.
“Moving toward an agreement is not easy, politically, on their end.”
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 deal.
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 bidding.
Asked about the exchange, the State Department said that the negotiations are in a “particularly sensitive” moment, sensitive to inflammatory rhetoric.
“Iran must offer answers and not a certain number of provocative statements,” French President François Hollande said in response to the comments.