Big powers in hard bargaining with Iran in Geneva

GENEVA: Following a day of exhausting bilateral meetings between Iranian and Russian FMs and the EU’s chief diplomat, top ministers from other P5+1 powers have arrived in Geneva to add extra political weight and join the talks ahead of a much-anticipated deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was the first to arrive in Geneva on Friday evening. Lavrov held bilateral meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Details of the meetings were not disclosed. On Saturday the Russian Foreign Minister met US Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as French and Chinese foreign ministers.

“Lavrov specifically stressed that for the first time in many years the six world powers and Iran have a real opportunity to reach agreement,” the Russian foreign ministry said in statement Saturday.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov blamed the western media for presenting “rather one-legged comments” on the talks and trying to blame the Iranian delegation for the lack of a break through.

He also called for a media blackout during the negotiations.

“Any negotiations, especially on such a sensitive issue as settlement of the Iranian nuclear program, require silence from the media,” Ryabkov said Saturday. 

The EU’s delegation sounds cautiously optimistic. “You cannot suddenly get an agreement overnight… So I do not think that anyone should panic,” Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann, said in an interview with Iran’s Press TV. “We are prepared to do hard work to bridge those differences. It will take as long as it takes.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of “very difficult negotiations,” saying “narrow gaps” remain on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round earlier this month.

“We’re not here because things are necessarily finished,” Hague told reporters. “We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult.”

Details were not released but it appeared the two sides were trying to reconcile Iran’s insistence that it has a right to enrich for peaceful purposes while assuaging fears that Tehran was secretly trying to build a bomb, a charge the Iranians deny.

As the talks entered an intensive phase, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the negotiations had reached “the final moment,” according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reiterated Saturday the Iranian position that Tehran must maintain the right to enrich uranium. 

“We’re discussing a three-part agreement. I can assure you that Iran’s right to enrichment will be included in any deal,” he said.

But he also struck a more upbeat note saying that “The arrival of foreign ministers of six countries in Geneva proves the governments’ readiness to reach agreement with Tehran.”

On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country would never compromise on “red lines.” Since then, Tehran has publicly reiterated its  stance that the six powers must recognise uranium enrichment as Iran’s right, despite strong opposition by Israel and within the U.S. Congress and some Gulf Arab states. Agencies

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