GENEVA: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday his country would “do its best” to secure a nuclear deal as Tehran and Washington held crunch talks on the long-running dispute.
Senior negotiators from both camps met behind closed doors for a second day of talks at Geneva’s upscale Hotel President Wilson, which was sealed off to the media.
The meeting is part of a fresh diplomatic drive in the face of a looming July 20 deadline for a final deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers.
“Iran will do its best for a final deal with the P5+1,” said Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, speaking in Turkey.
The self-declared moderate was elected president last year, succeeding hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and has launched a drive to mend fences with the West.
“Iran is ready to sit at the negotiating table for a solution” to both the nuclear dispute and “unfair sanctions,” he said.
After more than three hours of talks Tuesday morning, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, said the climate was “positive.”
Washington warned of “tough choices” as fellow P5+1 members try to build momentum in the crunch negotiations.
The U.S.-Iran meeting began Monday with a five-hour session, the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that American and Iranian negotiators have held direct, official nuclear talks.
The two sides have met informally, notably in a secret session last year in Oman which helped coax Tehran back to the negotiating table. They have also sat down together within the P5+1 process.
The P5+1 comprises the five permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.
The deadline for a final accord was July 20, but several players including Iran have already said a six-month extension may be needed.
France said talks on curbing Tehran’s uranium enrichment had “hit a wall.”
Iran – which says its nuclear program is peaceful and mainly aimed at generating electricity – has around 19,000 centrifuges, of which roughly 10,000 are operating, according to the U.N. nuclear agency. Enriched uranium can have both civilian and military uses, depending on the degree of refinement.
“We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point which is the number of centrifuges which allow enrichment,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio. “We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands so we’re not in the same framework.”
Paris has long held out for strict terms in the negotiations and it was not immediately clear whether Fabius was spelling out Paris’ position or also that of the other five powers
Washington and the other P5+1 states are seeking solid commitments that will ensure Iran’s stated desire for a peaceful atomic energy program is not a covert attempt to build a nuclear bomb.
For Iran, the goal is to make a leap toward ending the international sanctions, notably those imposed by the U.S., that have battered its economy.
Wednesday, Iranian negotiators are set to meet in Geneva with their French counterparts, before heading to Rome for talks with Russian officials, then hold a session in Tehran with Germany Sunday.
“Bilateral discussions offer a much more effective platform for conducting real bargaining than the cumbersome committee-type discussions in the P5+1 framework,” said Ali Vaez, a senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group.