, Geneva, Nov 21 – World powers resumed talks Thursday on a preliminary deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme with Tehran’s lead negotiator warning of a lingering “lack of trust” following an inconclusive meeting earlier this month.
“The main obstacle is the lack of trust because of what happened at the last round,” Abbas Araqchi told state television. “As long as trust is not restored, we cannot continue constructive negotiations.”
But he added that despite “major difference”, there was still a chance of a deal by Friday if representatives of the P5+1 — the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — were “flexible” and showed goodwill.
Western diplomats were similarly cautious with one senior envoy saying there were still “considerable gaps” between the two sides.
“Whether we will (get a deal), we will have to see, because it is hard. It is very hard,” a senior US officials said.
Another was more upbeat: “I am not saying it’s in the bag but we are in a process that started well and which could lead to a deal this weekend … We are getting to the heart of the matter.”
The Geneva talks are aimed at clinching a landmark deal to curb Iran’s nuclear drive in exchange for easing crippling economic sanctions.
Similar talks two weeks ago failed after France reportedly insisted that a proposed deal did not go far enough in securing guarantees on Iran’s uranium enrichment.
Thursday’s talks were mainly to be bilaterals between participants on finalising a draft.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went into what he called “serious and detailed” talks with chief negotiator Catherine Ashton.
This will be followed by talks between Zarif and all six powers chaired by Ashton as well as bilateral meetings between Iran and the powers, including the Americans.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisted that the text being haggled over with the Iranians on Thursday was “supported by all six”.
“This deal will only be possible if it has a firm base,” Fabius told France 2 television.
Numerous attempts to resolve the standoff have failed over the last decade, but the election this year of President Hassan Rouhani has raised hopes that this time a deal can be struck.
With the country reeling from sanctions, Rouhani has put the brakes on expanding Iran’s atomic activities.
On the table now is a deal whereby Iran would agree to freeze certain parts of its programme for six months while a final, comprehensive deal is negotiated.
The International Atomic Energy Agency would also have greater inspection rights and Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium would be removed.
Western powers say that the relief from painful sanctions that Iran would get would be minor and that the main oil and banking sanctions would stay during this period.
But sceptics, in particular Israel, complain that Iran is being given too much and that it should completely dismantle its nuclear facilities, most notably in uranium enrichment.
This process — increasing the proportion of a fissile isotope by spinning it at supersonic speeds in centrifuges — has civilian uses but at high purities can go in a nuclear weapon.
Daryl Kimball from the Arms Control Association said a complete dismantling might have been possible in 2005 when Iran had fewer than 300 centrifuges at one site.
“But it is not realistic now that Iran has 19,000 installed and 10,000 operating centrifuges at two sites,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday on a visit to Moscow that Iran would never get the bomb.
“I pledge Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” Netanyahu, who has never ruled out military action against Tehran, told Jewish community leaders.
On Wednesday US Secretary of State John Kerry, who rumour has it has a hotel room reserved in case he returns to sign a deal, sought to provide reassurance.
“We will not allow this agreement, should it be reached … to buy time or to allow for the acceptance of an agreement that does not properly address our core, fundamental concerns,” Kerry said in Washington.
If Rouhani, meanwhile, fails to secure quick and substantial relief from the sanctions, he risks losing the support of arch-conservatives and the supreme leader, experts say.