GENEVA: Iran and world powers resume talks on Wednesday seeking a landmark breakthrough over Tehran’s nuclear program that also satisfies skeptical hardliners in Washington, Israel and the Islamic republic.
The Geneva meeting takes place amid heightened Middle East tensions after twin suicide bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed at least 23 people on Tuesday. Iran blamed Israel and its “mercenaries.”
Ten days after a high-drama gathering also in Geneva, Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—the P5+1—have been cautiously optimistic a deal is possible this time.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also posted a conciliatory but defiant message on YouTube ahead of the meeting, said in Rome that there was “every possibility for success”.
But US President Barack Obama was more circumspect, telling a Wall Street Journal Chief Executive Officer forum on Tuesday: “I don’t know if we will be able to close a deal this week or next week.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin—due to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday—said on Monday in a phone call with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani that there was a “real chance.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said Tuesday after he also phoned Rouhani—the first such contact in a decade—that both leaders agreed it was “important to seize the opportunity.”
The P5+1 powers want a “first phase” deal whereby Iran freezes the most sensitive parts of its nuclear activities while a long-term accord is hammered out.
But the question is whether Iran, seeking an easing of United Nations, United States and European Union sanctions that have more than halved the country’s lifeblood oil exports, will accept what it is being offered in return.
On the table in Geneva is only a “limited, temporary, target and reversible” relief package that a senior US official said “will not come anywhere near helping Iran escape the hole that we’ve put them in.”
“We will maintain the sanctions as long as we are not certain that Iran has definitively and irreversibly renounced its military program to obtain nuclear weapons,” French President Francois Hollande said in Israel on Monday.