With a boost from Russia and China, Secretary of State John Kerry mounted a major diplomatic push Friday to reach an interim nuclear deal with Iran, despite fierce opposition from Israel and uncertainty in Congress.
Kerry and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany had arrived in Geneva with the talks at a critical stage following a full day of negotiations Thursday and said some obstacles remained in the way of any agreement offering sanctions reductions for nuclear concessions.
Word that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a Chinese deputy foreign minister also were headed to the talks provided fresh hope for at least an interim deal, perhaps on Saturday.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted any agreement in the making was a “bad deal” that he said gave Iran a pass by offering to lift sanctions for cosmetic concessions that Netanyahu said left intact Tehran’s nuclear weapons-making ability.
Kerry tempered reports of progress, warning of “important gaps” that must be overcome in the elusive deal that would offer limited sanctions relief if Iran starts capping programs that could make atomic arms.
Asked about Netanyahu’s criticism, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “any critique of the deal is premature” because an agreement has not been reached.
“The United States and Israel are in complete agreement about the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Lavrov also was joining the talks, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported. His deputy, Sergei Ryabov, was quoted as saying that Moscow expects them to produce a “lasting result expected by the international community.”
A Western diplomat in Geneva said China is sending a deputy foreign minister to the talks. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to provide such information.
“We are reaching a very critical important point,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in comments broadcast on Iranian PressTV.
“The negotiations have reached its critical, very sensitive situation, and it needs decisions at higher levels,” he said, a reference to the arrival of the foreign ministers.
Any agreement would be a breakthrough after nearly a decade of mostly inconclusive talks, but would only be the start of a long process to reduce Iran’s potential ability to produce nuclear arms, with no guarantee of ultimate success.
Kerry arrived from Tel Aviv after meeting Netanyahu and trying to defuse concerns. Israel is strongly critical of any deal that even slightly lifts sanctions unless Iran is totally stripped of technology that can make nuclear arms.
The talks primarily focus on the size and output of Iran’s enrichment program, which can create both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material suitable for a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it is pursuing only nuclear energy, medical treatments and research, but the U.S. and its allies fear that Iran could turn this material into the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
Kerry said there were “some very important issues on the table that are unresolved.”
“There is not an agreement at this point in time,” he told reporters. He was meeting later Friday with his European counterparts before joint talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat who is convening the talks.
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