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Iran nuclear talks continue for a third day

Secretary of State John Kerry said there are still “important gaps” that must be overcome.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second left, arrives for a meeting with European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second left, arrives for a meeting with European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton.
Image: AP Photo

IRAN AND WORLD powers remain split on terms of a nuclear deal because of differences on ways to reduce Tehran’s ability to make atomic weapons using plutonium and enriched uranium, France’s foreign minister said today.

His comments were the first to provide some specifics on the obstacles at the Geneva talks, now in their third day.

John Kerry

Laurent Fabius’ remarks to France-Inter radio came as US Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from Britain, France and Germany negotiating with Iran consulted in the Swiss city on how to resolve the obstacles at the talks.

Fabius mentioned differences over Iran’s Arak reactor southeast of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year once it goes online. He also said there was disagreement over efforts to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to levels that would require substantial further enriching before they could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

“We are hoping for a deal, but for the moment there are still issues that have not been resolved,” he said.

Inconclusive

Any agreement would be a breakthrough after nearly a decade of mostly inconclusive talks, but would only be the start of a long process to reduce Iran’s potential ability to produce nuclear arms, with no guarantee of ultimate success.

The six powers — the negotiators also include Russia and China — are considering a gradual rollback of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. In exchange, they demand initial curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, including a cap on uranium enrichment to a level that cannot be turned quickly to weapons use.

Iran, which denies any interest in such weapons, currently runs more than 10,000 centrifuges that have created tons of fuel-grade material that can be further enriched to arm nuclear warheads.

It also has nearly 440 pounds of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be turned into weapons much more quickly. Experts say 550 pounds of 20 percent-enriched uranium are needed to produce a single warhead.

Iran

Iran says it expects Arak, the plutonium producing reactor, to be completed and online sometime next year. It would need additional facilities to reprocess the plutonium into weapons-grade material and the UN’s nuclear agency monitoring Iran’s atomic activities says it has seen no evidence of such a project.

The six powers would like Iran to mothball the reactor. Diplomats have previously said Tehran might be ready to delay the project but not scrap it.

Kerry and his European counterparts arrived in Geneva on Friday with the talks at a critical stage following a full day of negotiations Thursday and said some obstacles remained in the way of any agreement offering sanctions reductions for nuclear concessions.

Word that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a senior Chinese official from Beijing also were headed to the talks provided fresh hope for at least an interim deal, perhaps today.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted any agreement in the making was a “bad deal” that gave Iran a pass by offering to lift sanctions for cosmetic concessions that he said left intact Tehran’s nuclear weapons-making ability. Israel is strongly critical of any deal that even slightly lifts sanctions unless Iran is totally stripped of technology that can make nuclear arms.

Kerry tempered reports of progress, warning of “important gaps” that must be overcome.

Read: Israel “utterly rejects” Iran deal aimed at ending nuclear tensions>

Read: Ireland ceased funding for Iran anti-drug programme over death penalty concerns>

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Associated Press

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