Iran and six world powers appeared to be edging towards a preliminary deal on its nuclear activity on Thursday, citing progress in talks capitalizing on a diplomatic opening from Tehran, though it cautioned that the discussions were “tough.”
The United States said the powers would consider relaxing some sanctions against Iran if it takes verifiable steps to limit its nuclear program.
Lending urgency to the process, a U.S. Senate committee said it would pursue a package of tough new sanctions on Iran after the current Geneva talks end on Friday. Any more punitive sanctions would torpedo hopes for a deal, Iran has warned.
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to hold off on more steps to isolate Iran to avoid derailing prospects for a deal the powers hope will deter any Iranian advance towards nuclear arms capability.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton — who is presiding over the talks — said Thursday evening that the powers and Iran were “making progress” towards easing a decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
Mann said Ashton would meet Iran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Friday morning “to allow more time to work through some issues.” Diplomats from the six nations would also meet early on Friday to prepare Ashton’s talks with Zarif.
Zarif told Reuters earlier in the day: “The talks went well … I’m hopeful that we can move forward. We are making progress, but it’s tough.”
In an interview with CNN, Zarif suggested that a partial suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment campaign might be possible — a concession it ruled out before President Hassan Rouhani’s election in June.
“There won’t be a suspension of our enrichment program in its entirety,” Zarif said, rejecting Israel’s central demand.
But he said he hoped the sides would agree on a joint statement on Friday stipulating a goal to be reached “within a limited period of time, hopefully in less than a year,” and a series of reciprocal actions they would take “to build confidence and address their most immediate concerns.
“I believe it is possible to reach an understanding or an agreement before we close these negotiations tomorrow evening.”