GENEVA: World powers were set on Tuesday to revive stalled talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear ambitions, with all eyes on what Tehran’s top diplomat would put on the table.
The two-day closed-door negotiations will be held at the United Nations’ European base in the Swiss city of Geneva.
On the eve of the meeting, however, both sides downplayed chances of any major advance despite hopes raised by the more moderate government at the helm of the Islamic republic since conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrapped up two terms in office.
His successor President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, promising transparency on the nuclear drive and engagement with the world to eventually lift the sanctions strangling Iran’s economy.
His foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif—set to present Iran’s positions to the P5+1 group of the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany—said on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) that its three-step proposal could be implemented “within a year.”
While not going into details, he said the initial step could be achieved “within a month, or two, or even less.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who chairs the talks, said she had come “with cautious optimism but a real sense of determination,” with the goal to go into details of proposals and explore possibilities.
Ahead of the meeting with Iran’s team—expected to be led for the bulk of the talks by deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi—a senior United States administration official also said detail would be the key.
“We are quite ready to move. But it depends what they put on the table,” the official told reporters.
“We are hopeful, but that has to be tested with concrete, verifiable actions,” the official said.
“In the past, Iran has taken the negotiated time and just kept moving forward with its nuclear program. We cannot allow that to be the case.”
Zarif for his part, admitted to difficulties in the negotiations, on hold since a round in April in the Kazakh city of Almaty where Iran refused to curb some sensitive enrichment activities in exchange for a moderate relief of sanctions.
“The nuclear issue cannot be resolved in one session, as mistrust has been accumulated over years,” he said.
“I am not pessimistic about the talks, but we need to see the good intentions and political will of the other side in action,” Zarif said.
Western powers and Israel suspect Iran is developing a military capability via what it calls a peaceful atomic energy program, a claim vehemently denied by Tehran.
Iran has already drawn its red lines for the talks, saying it will not accept any demand to suspend uranium enrichment or ship out stockpiles of purified material.
A first meeting between Zarif and his counterparts from the six powers took place last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, accompanied by a landmark bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.