GENEVA — Secretary of State John F. Kerry and foreign ministers of five other world powers Saturday joined ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, but sought to tamp down expectations a deal was imminent.
The top diplomats cautioned that they continued to wrestle with two or three key issues in the talks, which are in their third round in three weeks.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on arrival that “we have the same areas of difficulty that we had two weeks ago. … We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult,” he said. He added that there were “many areas of agreement,” and that progress had been made.
The six countries and Iran are seeking a preliminary deal that would give Iran limited relief from economic sanctions in return for temporary curbs on a nuclear program that many nations fear is aimed at acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The deal would lay the groundwork for a yet-tougher negotiation to secure a long-term and comprehensive deal.
Traditionally, foreign ministers appear at the final stages of international negotiation to formally bless an agreement after their deputies have worked out the details. Two weeks ago, the ministers converged on the same spot and got “extremely close” to a deal, in Kerry’s words, only to have it melt away after midnight on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said the diplomats were wrestling with detailed language in which “every word and expression has its own meaning and requires caution.”
“The Iranian delegation will resist any unfair demands by the other side,” he told Iran’s Channel One.
Diplomats suggested that if they fail again to cinch the deal, they will simply meet again in a few days to resume the struggle.
Diplomats believed Friday afternoon that they had gotten close to completing a draft agreement that satisfied both sides. But after negotiators called home to their capitals late Friday, talk of difficulties resumed.
Key issues include work on a half-built heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, which Western officials would like to slow, and Iran’s desire to have international recognition of its entitlement to enrich uranium. Diplomats say the problems are not insurmountable, and the two sides have made progress working out language that could satisfy both.
Sensitivities were clear in Iranian grumbling about Hague’s comment on arrival that the Iranian nuclear program was “one of the greatest causes of instability in the Middle East and in world affairs.” Iranian officials said they considered the comment provocative.