GENEVA – Secretary of State John F. Kerry prepared to leave Washington late Friday to join international talks on Iran, in the latest sign that a preliminary deal to curb Tehran’s controversial nuclear program may be nearly complete.
As diplomats claimed progress in smoothing final issues, the State Department announced that Kerry would head to Switzerland “with the goal of continuing to narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement.”
Diplomats insisted that some final issues remained unresolved.
But Kerry’s departure, combined with the 6 p.m. Friday arrival of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, were widely taken as a sign that top diplomats from the six world powers negotiating with Iran were converging for the signing of the deal, perhaps on Saturday.
The current round of talks began Wednesday -- the third in three weeks.
Diplomats say they have resolved most issues related to the draft agreement but continue to consult their capitals to get final approval for the deal.
The preliminary agreement would give Iran some relief from Western economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear activities over the next six months. During that time, Iran and the six world powers will try to hammer out a long-term agreement aimed at ensuring that Iran does not gain the ability to build nuclear weapons.
Iranian officials were gloomy about prospects of a deal Thursday, and appeared to stiffen their terms. But their comments were mostly positive Friday after a meeting with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who is the point person for the six countries negotiating with Iran.