GENEVA -- Iran appeared Thursday to be stiffening its demands in international negotiations aimed at curbing its nuclear program, even as other signs suggested that the seven countries at the bargaining table might be close to a deal.
Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said the Tehran regime demanded that world powers begin easing oil and banking sanctions quickly as part of the preliminary deal that has been under discussion for the past five weeks.
He also said in an interview with the government-controlled Iran Student News Agency that Iran wanted the six world powers to recognize in the first-phase deal Iran’s entitlement to enrich uranium.
Accepting such conditions would be a major concession for the United States. The Obama administration and the other five countries have insisted that they would not ease the “core” oil and banking sanctions in any first-phase deal. And they have suggested that they might be persuaded to bless enrichment by Iran at the end of the comprehensive deal-making, but not in the opening phase.
Araqchi’s comments could be a last-minute negotiating maneuver before the deal is officially blessed, perhaps as early as Friday, analysts said. But they could also mark a shift by the Iranian negotiating team after its consultations with top regime officials in the last 10 days, following the unsuccessful end of the last round of talks on Nov. 10.
Meanwhile, as negotiators began a second day of talks, diplomats said foreign ministers from the six world powers were poised to converge on Geneva on Friday if the talks make progress. Secretary of State John F. Kerry could come to Geneva if it would move the process forward, U.S. officials said.
The six countries -- China, Russia, the United States, France, Germany and Britain -- are offering Iran a limited temporary easing of sanctions on its economy if it accepts temporary limits on its nuclear program. Many nations fear that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, despite its denials of such a goal.
This first-phase deal is aimed at freezing progress on Iran’s nuclear program to allow negotiations of a final deal, without the risk that Iran would forge ahead with its program during the six or more months of talks.
Several world leaders and negotiators, including British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have said in recent days that a deal was close. U.S. officials have been more cautious, saying they want to take their time to negotiate “the best deal.”
The signals coming from Iran have been mixed. While Zarif has urged the world to act on a “historic” opportunity to make a deal, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Wednesday delivered a harsh speech that denounced the United States and said he would not budge “one iota” on Iran’s “red-line” demands.
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