EU powers and Iran have agreed to continue talks over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme amid signs they could strike a deal soon after a last-ditch meeting here Wednesday to avert an escalation in the dispute.
Negotiators at the Geneva talks
Iran pledged to maintain a suspension of its uranium enrichment programme agreed in Paris last November, Iranian chief negotiator Hassan Rowhani said, indicating that progress was made in the high-level talks.
Hasan Rohani, left, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, right
Britain's foreign secretary Jack Straw said the three EU powers, known as the EU-3, had told Iranian negotiators they would make new proposals to Tehran in late July or August.
"The European side said that it would take detailed proposals to Iran by the end of July or the beginning of August, as outlined and discussed today and earlier by our officials, in the context of the Paris agreement remaining in force," Straw told journalists.
"Iran for its part reaffirmed its commitment to not seeking nuclear weapons," he added.
Iranian negotiators had warned before the meeting that a deadlock was looming amid plans to reopen a nuclear plant in central Iran, warning that the Geneva talks were a "final chance."
"The Paris agreement remains in place... We kept this show on the road," a European official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The European Union had warned that it could refer Iran to the UN Security Council -- and expose Tehran to direct pressure from Washington -- if the talks failed.
Carrots rather than sticks
The EU has been offering possible trade and other benefits to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear plans.
The EU-3, representing the full 25-member EU, called the talks after Tehran repeatedly signalled it would resume key nuclear activities including an uranium enrichment capability. That would be in breach of an accord to suspend enrichment "temporarily," which was reached in Paris last November.
Enriched uranium can be used both for civil or military purposes, depending on the level of enrichment. Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is only meant to provide an alternative source of energy.
Iranian negotiators were adamant before the talks that they wanted to resume activities at a nuclear plant in Isfahan, central Iran. An Iranian negotiator, Cyrus Nasseri, said a resumption in Isfahan was "the only solution to allow a suspension to continue in other parts." Isfahan is a uranium conversion plant, a precursor stage in enrichment.
But the EU ministers signalled that step would be unacceptable.
Foreign Minister Michel Barnier
The United States, which has adopted a tougher stance, has nonetheless backed the European diplomatic thrust.
Tehran is proposing that some of the more sensitive enrichment work on nuclear fuel from Iran could be conducted in Russia, Iran's foreign minister Kamal Kharazi said.
According to the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tehran would pledge not to acquire nuclear arms and would authorize the permanent presence of international inspectors. The Iranians also want the EU to help them build nuclear reactors, and to guarantee them supplies of nuclear fuel for future reactors.
It's certainly not a new debate, but the controversial topic has picked up steam again - especially in Germany: Where does political criticism of Israel end, and where does anti-Semitism begin?
The Netherlands observed a minute of silence to honor Dutch victims on flight MH17, which was apparently shot down over eastern Ukraine last week. Experts say identifying the crash's victims could take weeks.
The Dutch and Australian foreign ministers are to visit Kyiv to press for proper security at the Malaysian MH17 crash site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, so official probes can begin and remaining bodies repatriated.
In Berlin, getting involved in illegal things is like having an affair. You may get caught and the consequences could be terrible, but the danger associated with it makes it all more exciting, says DW's Lavinia Pitu.