GENEVA: Iran and the United States go into a second day of talks on Tuesday over Tehran’s contested nuclear program, with Washington warning of “tough choices” ahead of a July deadline for a deal.
The closed-door two-day meeting in Geneva, which began on Monday, marks a new effort to find common ground between Tehran and Washington, amid concerns that tensions between the two could damage efforts to strike a deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.
As the first day of talks drew to a close, Washington acknowledged that time was running out.
“We think we’ve made progress during some rounds, but as we said coming out of the last one, we hadn’t seen enough made. We hadn’t seen enough realism, quite frankly, on the table,” said deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“We know we don’t have a lot of time left. That’s why we’ve said diplomacy will intensify,” she said.
“People need to make tough choices, but we are very focused on that July 20th time,” Harf added.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister and nuclear pointman Abbas Araqchi said Monday’s dialogue “took place in a positive climate and was constructive,” in comments carried by Iran’s ISNA news agency.
The Geneva meeting marks the first time since the 1980s that Tehran and Washington have held official, direct talks on the nuclear issue outside of the P5+1 process.
For Iran, the goal is to make a leap towards ending the international sanctions that have battered its economy.
Washington and its fellow powers are seeking solid commitments that will ensure Iran’s stated desire for a peaceful atomic power program is not a covert attempt to build a nuclear bomb.
Time is running out for Iran’s negotiations with the so-called P5+1 group, which includes the five permanent United Nations Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.
A deadline of July 20 has been set to turn a temporary deal struck in November in Geneva into a permanent agreement.
“If this does not happen, we’ll have to resort to extending the Geneva agreement for another six months so the negotiations can continue,” Iran’s IRNA news agency quoted Araqchi as saying earlier on Monday.
Both sides had already raised the prospect of an extension.
With the last round of P5+1 talks in Vienna in May yielding little, the stakes are high.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the negotiation had “entered the deep-water zone”.
“All parties need to take a flexible and practical attitude in order to seek common ground and shelve differences,” she added.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris would hold direct talks with Iranian officials this week.
“After these discussions, there will also be discussions between the Iranians and the Russians. There may be others,” he added
Iran was also expected to meet Russian negotiators in Rome on Wednesday and Thursday and hold talks with German officials on Sunday in Tehran, before a P5+1 session in Vienna from June 16-20.
However, Araqchi has said the ball is in Washington’s court.
“Most of the sanctions were imposed by the US, and other countries from the P5+1 group were not involved,” IRNA quoted him as saying on Sunday.