Top Western diplomats and their Iranian counterparts have held several hours of talks aimed at reaching a deal that would allay fears over Tehran’s nuclear program. Both sides agreed that much work was still to be done.
Many observers saw the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from Germany, Britain and France in Geneva on Friday as a sign that an interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program could come as soon as this weekend.
Talks involving Kerry, the European Union’s foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif stretched to shortly before midnight on Friday.
After the talks wrapped up, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi described the discussions as “productive but still we have lots of work to do.”
An unnamed US State Department spokesman cited by the Associated Press struck a similar tone.
“Over the course of the evening we continued to make progress as we worked to narrow the gaps” but “there is more work to do,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of Kerry.
An EU spokesman, who confirmed that the negotiations had broken off for the night described the talks as “good.”
US officials have also confirmed that the negotiations would resume on Saturday, when the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers were expected to join the talks. Also involved in negotiations earlier on Friday were German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, as well as his UK and French counterparts, William Hague and Laurent Fabius.
The German foreign ministry statement described the discussions as difficult, and said that there was “still a way to go.” At the same it noted that there had been “movement.”
Bitterly opposed to any deal with Iran though, is an interested party not actually involved in the talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he “utterly rejects” the potential nuclear deal between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1 group, and Iran.
“This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people,” Netanyahu said.
Later in the day, though, US President Barack Obama called Netanyahu, in which he reassured him that the White House remained committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Asked about Netanyahu’s criticism, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that since no deal had yet been reached “any critique of the deal is premature.”
Iran has been under crippling economic sanctions for years due to Western fears that it could be seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. At the current talks, the P5+1 group are said to be offering a partial rollback of sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to curbs on its nuclear program, including a cap on uranium enrichment activities.