Talks between Iran and world powers have entered their third day. Top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton has met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Geneva this week to discuss plans to end the nuclear dispute.
Many banked on this third round of talks since President Hassan Rouhani's June election resolving the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Reaching an agreement palatable to skeptical hard-liners in the United States, Iran and Israel remains the sticking point, however.
"A first step is a very, very important deal because it means that a deal has been struck, which changes the atmosphere, changes the conversation," Trita Parsi, an author and the president of the National Iranian American Council, told the news agency AFP.
Iran has claimed that its nuclear program is for peaceful and scientific purposes. The P5+1 nations - referring to Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany - want Iran to curb, or stop altogether parts of its nuclear program, in exchanging for easing some sanctions that have crippled its economy.
'Details and wording'
Failure risks spoiling Iran's rapprochement efforts since Rouhani replaced the more combative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August. The president finds himself under considerable pressure to show Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that his "charm offensive" will bear fruit, and it remains unclear whether the minor sanctions relief on offer will prove enough.
Should the parties leave Geneva without a deal, Iran could expand its program, the US and other nations could add to sanctions, and Israel could potentially launch strikes. Should the parties reach agreement, Iran would get minor, "reversible" sanctions relief, including unlocking several billion dollars in oil revenues stuck in international bank accounts.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the two sides were working through "details and wording." Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said "differences of views" remain, but told Iran's IRNA news agency that "we regained some of our lost trust."
US and Israel
The negotiations have alarmed many in Israel - widely assumed to have a formidable nuclear arsenal itself - with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning tirelessly against any deal. Netanyahu wants all, not part, of Iran's nuclear infrastructure dismantled, believing that a compromise with the P5+1 could leave the country with the ability to develop weapons.
"You are not really dismantling any capacity to make fissile material for nuclear weapons," he said in an interview this week with Germany's Bild, the country's top-selling newspaper.
In the United States meanwhile, lawmakers have pushed to ignore President Barack Obama's pleas and pass yet more sanctions on Iran should no deal come in Geneva - or even a deal deemed too soft by members of Congress. On Thursday in Washington, US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid raised the pressure, saying that lawmakers would move to impose new sanctions on Iran in December.
mkg/ng (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)