Iran talks: closing in on a deal

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif meeting his Italian counterpart in Rome ahead of the Geneva talks

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif meeting his Italian counterpart in Rome ahead of the Geneva talks

The third round of nuclear talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council along with Germany began on Wednesday amid growing expectations that, this time, an agreement will be signed before the talks break up. While the round is scheduled to end on Friday night, all sides are prepared to continue into the weekend.

Few reports have actually come out of the talks taking place in Geneva, but sources both on the Iranian side and from the other countries participating insisted that an agreement was close. This is also the assessment of the Israeli government.

It is yet unclear whether the foreign minister of the powers represented at the talks will arrive to sign an agreement. Rooms have been reserved for them, however.

Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague said on Wednesday during a visit to Turkey that “the differences that remain between the parties are narrow and I believe they can be bridged with political will and commitment.

The Israeli government believes that a deal is very close

This is an historic opportunity to build agreement on how to curb nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and potentially to set our relations with Iran on a different path.”

Details on how the sides plan to bridge the main differences, the fate of 200 kg of uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity currently held by Iran and the construction of a new heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak are still sparse.

Insistence by the Western powers on Iranian commitments on these issues prevented an agreement being signed in the previous round of talks two weeks ago. But participants remained optimistic throughout the week in Geneva.

Another main bone of contention, Iran’s insistence on retaining its right to enrich uranium, may yet be solved. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last weekend that Iran could be satisfied with the international community not having to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

Even before an agreement has been reached, there are growing signs of Iran coming out of its international isolation. On his way to the talks, Mr Zarif stopped off in Rome for a meeting with his Italian counterpart Emma Bonino.

Following the meeting, Iranian sources said that Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta is now planning a visit to Tehran.

On Tuesday night, David Cameron initiated the first direct discussion in more than 10 years between a British prime minister and an Iranian president when he and Hassan Rouhani spoke over the phone about the Geneva talks and the situation in Syria.

France, meanwhile, which insisted on a tougher deal in the previous round of talks, continues to hold the Iranians to account.

A government spokesperson in Paris said that a speech by Iranian Supreme Leader on Wednesday in which he called Israel “the rabid dog” of the region was unacceptable and complicated the talks.

Ayatollah Khamenei said in his speech that he had set “red lines” to the negotiators but expressed support for the team representing Mr Rouhani’s government saying he will not “interfere” in the talks.

He accused the US of “warmongering” but insisted that he wants “friendly relations” with America. Around 50,000 members of the Basij militia in the audience responded with calls of “Death to America.”

Last updated: 2:19pm, November 21 2013