Lavrov to join Iran nuclear talks as optimism grows
Negotiations between Iran and world powers over Tehran's nuclear programme ratcheted up a notch Friday with Russia's foreign minister flying to Geneva in a fresh push to clinch a deal.
As negotiators reported some progress shortly after entering talks on the third day, Russian news agencies reported that Sergei Lavrov would fly to Geneva to join in the negotiations.
“Last night we were a long way from foreign ministers coming. Today it has got closer,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, according to the ISNA news agency.
London and Paris said however that there were no plans at present for British and French counterparts William Hague and Laurent Fabius to participate.
This third meeting since President Hassan Rouhani’s election in June is seen as the biggest hope in years to resolve the decade-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Failure might mean Iran resuming the expansion of its atomic activities, Washington and others adding to already painful sanctions, and possible Israeli military action.
At the last gathering two weeks ago foreign ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Geneva but three days of intense talks failed and they went home empty-handed.
Both sides say they want a deal but getting an accord palatable to hardliners both in the United States and in the Islamic republic — as well as Israel — has proven a daunting task.
According to a draft proposal hammered out on November 9, the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany — the P5+1 — want Iran to freeze for six months key parts of its nuclear programme.
In return Iran would get minor and, Western officials insist, “reversible” sanctions relief, including unlocking several billion dollars in oil revenues and easing trade restrictions on precious metals and aircraft parts.
This hoped-for “first phase” deal would build trust and ease tensions while negotiators push on for a final accorde that ends once and for all fears that Tehran will get an atomic bomb.
After Thursday’s sessions Iranian diplomats were downbeat.
But on Friday, Tehran signaled an improvement after only an hour-long meeting between Zarif and the powers’ chief negotiator Catherine Ashton.
“The negotiations are progressing well but we still have differences of opinion over a limited number of issues,” Zarif said on Facebook.
“God willing we will reach a result,” he told Iranian media.
Ashton’s spokesman said that the meeting was “useful”, without giving details.
“We are glad to hear the Iranians are also seeing things in a positive way, but we’ll have to wait and see how things develop in the afternoon,” Michael Mann said.
Netanyahu says no
But many in Israel, widely assumed to have a formidable nuclear arsenal itself, are alarmed about the mooted deal, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning vigorously against it.
Netanyahu wants all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure dismantled, not parts of it frozen, believing that the P5+1 will leave Iran with an ability to develop nuclear weapons.
“You are not really dismantling any capacity to make fissile material for nuclear weapons,” he said in an interview in Germany’s Bild, Europe’s top-selling newspaper, this week.
In the United States meanwhile, lawmakers were making a push to ignore President Barack Obama’s pleas, warning that they would pass yet more sanctions on Iran if there is no deal — or one seen as too soft.
Raising the pressure, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in Washington on Thursday that lawmakers would move to impose new trade restrictions in December.
This risks spoiling Iran’s apparent newfound appetite for rapprochement with the West since Rouhani replaced the more hardline and combative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.
Rouhani is under pressure to show the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the first fruits of his “charm offensive”, and it is unclear whether the minor sanctions relief on offer is enough.
Khamenei, describing Israel as a doomed “rabid dog”, said in Iran on the first day of the talks Wednesday that he insisted “on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation”.
By this he meant what he sees as the “right” to enrich uranium, something the P5+1 are loath to endorse explicitly and which is a key sticking point in Geneva.
“The principle of enrichment is not something that is negotiable,” Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi said Wednesday.
“But we can talk about volumes, the level and the location.”