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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US, Iran Envoys Hold Unscheduled Late-night Meeting

by Pamela Dockins January 14, 2015

The top U.S. and Iranian diplomats unexpectedly resumed their talks on Tehran's nuclear program.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to their Geneva hotel Wednesday evening for an unscheduled meeting with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The two had spent five hours earlier Wednesday in a renewed effort to reach a deal.

A senior U.S. State Department official said they discussed a wide range of issues. The aide said Kerry and Zarif then offered guidance to their teams to prepare for a round of negotiations that start Thursday.

Ready to 'speed up' talks

Speaking earlier, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said his meeting Wednesday with Kerry shows that Iran and a group of world powers are ready to 'speed up' their negotiations in hopes of reaching a deal by the new July 1 deadline.

"I think [this round of talks] will show the readiness of the two parties to move forward, to speed up the process," said Zarif.

But he placed the burden for reaching an agreement on the U.S. and the five other countries Iran is negotiating with.

'We have reached a stage that it is necessary for the other side (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany; also known as P5+1) to make its decisions so that we could move forward. In our opinion, reaching a deal is completely possible, but a political decision and will is needed. The Islamic Republic of Iran has shown that it has such will at all levels,' he said.

Just before the meeting, Zarif called the talks with Kerry 'important,' but remained cautious about reaching an accord and declined to detail the issues that divide the negotiators.

'All issues are hard until we resolve them,' he said, 'and all issues are easy if we resolve them.'

Kerry did not comment before the initial Wednesday meeting. He said earlier this week his discussions with Zarif would be a chance for the diplomats to assess where the two sides stand.

Full negotiations are to resume Sunday.

It has been two months since the two sides decided to extend the negotiations after failing to agree by their self-imposed November deadline.

Now, about six weeks remain before their goal of having a framework in place for a deal that would address concerns about possible military applications of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions that have hurt the country's economy.

The deadline for a final agreement is July 1.

Differences remain

Middle East expert James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation said that 'at best,' the P5+1 group could get 'a great extension of the time needed for Iran to stage a nuclear breakout. But it won't be able to get guarantees that there will be no breakout.'

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. The United States and its allies do not believe this claim and have slapped economic sanctions on Iran that experts say are seriously hurting the country's economy.

'Oil exports from Iran have been cut roughly from 2.5 million to 1 million barrels a day,' said Allen Keiswetter of Washington's Middle East Institute. 'Furthermore, the price of oil has now dropped by about 50 percent. So, you are looking at Iran receiving 20 to 25 percent of the revenues that it did previously.'

Tehran's uranium enrichment capacity and the speed at which economic sanctions should be lifted are reported to be the major outstanding differences between the two sides. Iran may be trying to use the negotiations to ease the economic sanctions without giving up much of its nuclear capability, according to Phillips.

'Iran wants to wriggle out of sanctions without foreclosing its nuclear options,' he said. 'That is, it wants to weaken sanctions as much as possible but it doesn't want to definitively give up its nuclear option. And unfortunately, that won't work for the U.S.'

But other experts are more optimistic about the prospects for agreement, saying both sides stand to gain a lot if they succeed.

'We are very eager to stop all the routes for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and this would be a big, big victory,' Keiswetter said. 'On the Iranian side, it could lift the sanctions and open up routes for Iran to reintegrate into the world economy.'

Both Iran and the United States have expressed hope they will make progress at the upcoming talks. However, they may not agree with each other's version of what the progress may look like.



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