GENEVA, Switzerland – Iran and the world powers Thursday began talks over the Islamic republic’s disputed nuclear programme amid a guarded optimism from the two sides over a way forward to a lasting solution to the issue.
Delegates from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany have signaled that in the two-day negotiations in Geneva they would demand that Iran immediately stop development of its nuclear programme, in exchange for a limited lifting of curbs against Tehran.
The day started with a meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who also chairs the UN team.
Ashton said the morning session was “good” but declined to give details.
Zarif also described it as a “very good meeting” over the breakfast before the full delegations from Iran, the five permanent Security Council members, Germany and the EU got together for a 45-minute session.
Diplomats at the meet who spoke on the conditions of anonymity said there would by smaller group meetings throughout the day.
Zarif said the morning “talks went well”. “I believe it is possible to reach an agreement during this meeting, but I can only talk for our side, I cannot talk for the other side.”
A possible solution to the nuclear issue was within reach, said Zarif, “If everyone tries their best, we may have one We expect serious negotiations. It’s possible,” he said.
An unnamed senior official from the US government told journalists on the eve of talks that an interim deal was reachable.
“I do see the potential outlines of a first step,” the official said. “I do think it can be written on a piece of paper, probably more than one. I hope sooner rather than later. I would like to stop Iran’s programme from advancing further.”
The official said the aim of a first deal would be to “put some time on the clock”, freezing Iran’s nuclear progress and buying time for negotiations on a more comprehensive and enduring agreement.
In return, the US official said, the international community would ease some sanctions but not alter “the core sanctions regime”.
“Put simply, what we’re looking for now is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran’s nuclear programme from moving forward for the first time in decades and that potentially rolls part of it back,” the official said.
Diplomats and other officials at the meet are not providing details of the meetings.
The long-stalled talks with Iran were re-initiated after Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian president, took office in August. Rouhani declared that he wanted to resolve longstanding concerns about the country’s nuclear programme so that punishing economic sanctions could be lifted.
The US and its western allies allege that Iran is pursuing its atomic programme to make nuclear weapons. However, Tehran categorically denies the allegations saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful civilian usage.