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US Secretary of State John Kerry walks down the steps of his aircraft as he arrives at Geneva International airport AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool

Top world diplomats in 'homestretch' for Iran nuclear deal

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva for the talks today.

IRANIAN NEGOTIATOR ABBAS Araqchi said “two or three” differences remain with the major powers as nuclear talks go into a fourth day in Geneva today.

“We still have two or three points of difference. However, the two sides are getting close to an agreement,” Araqchi, a deputy foreign minister, told Fars news agency shortly before the talks resumed.

We should see whether we can resolve those differences.

World powers

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from other world powers gathered in Geneva today hoping to put the finishing touches to a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

It was their second attempt in the same Swiss city in two weeks to nail down a deal curbing Iran’s disputed nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election in June has created big hopes that the standoff over Iran’s nuclear work can be resolved after a decade of failed diplomatic initiatives and rising tensions.

The risks posed by failure are high: further nuclear expansion by Iran, more painful sanctions and the possibility of Israeli and even US military action.

Kerry decided to go back “in light of the progress being made” after three days of negotiations in Geneva and “with the hope that an agreement will be reached”, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Friday.

Due to join Kerry in Switzerland were Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as well as Britain’s and Germany’s envoys William Hague and Guido Westerwelle. France’s Laurent Fabius arrived early Saturday and Russia’s Sergei Lavrov on Friday.

Representing Iran was Foreign Minister Mohammad Jarad Zarif. The talks are chaired by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who held talks with different parties until the early hours of Saturday morning.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the talks were “entering their final phase.” A French diplomatic source said: “It’s the homestretch but preceding negotiations have taught us prudence.”

Lavrov said that “for the first time in many years” there was a “real opportunity” for a deal, a Russian statement said after he and Zarif met late Friday.

The talks involve the permanent five UN Security Council members – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – plus Germany.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful but many in the international community suspect it is aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons.

The six powers want Iran to stop spinning, for six months initially, some of its many thousand centrifuges enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade.

They also want Tehran to stop construction work at Arak and to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency more intrusive inspection rights.

In return they are offering Iran minor and reversible relief from painful sanctions including unlocking several billion dollars in oil revenues and easing some trade restrictions.

This “first phase” deal would build trust and ease tensions while negotiators push on for a final accord that ends once and for all fears that Tehran will acquire an atomic bomb.

A major sticking point however has been Iran’s demand for recognition of its “right” to enrich uranium.

Narrowing of differences

Friday’s third day of talks in Geneva saw a narrowing of differences as Zarif met with Ashton.

The US-educated Zarif said that there was “room for optimism”.

Both sides say they want a deal but getting an accord palatable to hardliners both in the United States and in the Islamic republic – as well as Israel – is tough.

Many in Israel, widely assumed to have a formidable nuclear arsenal itself, are alarmed about the mooted deal, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning vigorously against it.

Netanyahu wants all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure dismantled, not parts of it frozen, believing that the P5+1 will leave Iran with an ability to develop nuclear weapons.

In the United States meanwhile there is a push by lawmakers to ignore President Barack Obama’s pleas and pass yet more sanctions on Iran if there is no deal – or one seen as too soft.

Rouhani meanwhile is under pressure to show Khamenei the first fruits of his “charm offensive”, and it is unclear whether the sanctions relief on offer is enough.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: David Cameron calls Iranian President Hassan Rouhani>

Read: Iran hits back at US over nuclear talks failure>

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