WASHINGTON – High-level meetings in Geneva in coming days will offer an early test of whether Iran is willing to show new flexibility in the stalled international negotiations on its nuclear program.
With only six weeks before the next deadline in the negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday in the Swiss capital. The U.S. and Iranian negotiating teams will meet Thursday through Saturday, and on Sunday diplomats from all seven countries involved in the negotiations will hold a final session.
The negotiations were extended twice last year, after the two sides failed to meet deadlines for reaching a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear development activities. But Iranian President Hassan Rowhani appeared to signal last week his interest in a deal, and Western officials hope to see whether Rowhani will return with new instructions from Iran’s supreme leader that will allow the countries to resolve several major issues.
“There is hope that, having come so close, there will now be a decision to take the final steps,” said a person close to the negotiations, who declined to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the issue.
Iranian officials insist that it is not they, but Western officials, who are intransigent.
The two sides have been negotiating for over a decade to reach a deal that would ease international economic sanctions on Iran if it agrees to limit its nuclear activities. Iran insists it is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, but many countries believe it is at least trying to gain bomb-making know-how.
Kerry met Saturday in Munich with Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman, who has served as an intermediary between the United States and Iran on the nuclear issue for several years.
Rowhani’s eagerness for a deal seemed apparent in a speech last week in which he argued that reducing Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear power, should not be construed as “compromising our principles and cause.”
But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seemed later to rebuff his subordinate’s position. He said Wednesday that Iran would not give ground on the nuclear program, and called on the country to find ways to insulate itself from the pressure of sanctions.