Talks over Iran's disputed nuke program hit a snag

By Matthew Lee

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 3:27 p.m. MST

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, right, speak together, during the third day of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva Switzerland, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. Iran and six world powers remain split on terms of a nuclear deal because Tehran is resisting demands that it suspends work on a plutonium-producing reactor and downgrade its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium to a level that cannot quickly be turned into the core of an atomic bomb, France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius said Saturday.

Jean-Christophe Bott,Pool, Associated Press

GENEVA — Talks on a deal to temporarily curb Iran's nuclear program ran into trouble Saturday when France questioned whether the proposal went far enough, casting doubt an agreement could be reached during the current round of negotiations.

Chances of bridging all differences diminished as the day went on.

A Western diplomat in Geneva for the talks told The Associated Press it appeared that a new round of negotiations would be needed to agree on all points of a startup deal meant to lead to a comprehensive agreement ensuring that Tehran's nuclear work remains peaceful.

He said preparations were being made by both sides for an announcement later in the day of a new meeting within a few weeks. He said earlier that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the U.S. and France's other negotiating partners, diminishing hopes of a done deal Saturday.

Comments by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif increased skepticism that the two sides would agree on the full contours of a first-step deal at the current negotiating round.

"There are differences," Zarif told Iranian state TV, adding that if open questions remained after Saturday, the talks would reconvene within a week to 10 days.

But the current talks in Geneva were still underway late Saturday, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Russia meeting with one another, and some with Zarif. Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Baodong Li also arrived Friday evening.

The foreign ministers of the seven delegations discussing Iran convened a meeting late Saturday night, and the Iranian officials were not included.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of "several points that ... we're not satisfied with compared to the initial text," telling France-Inter Radio his nation does not want to be part of a "con game."

He did not specify, but his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran, echoing concerns raised by Israel and several prominent U.S. legislators.

The French position was confirmed by another Western diplomat. Both gave no specifics and demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the diplomatic maneuvering.

Iranian state TV strongly criticized the French position, calling France "Israel's representatives at the talks.

Iran's IRNA news agency cited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as urging world powers to reach a deal.

"I hope the parties negotiating with Iran in the 5+1 group use the exceptional opportunity that the Iranian nation has provided to the West and the international community so that we achieve a positive result in a reasonable time," IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling a Japanese foreign minister visiting Tehran Saturday evening.

Rouhani said sanctions and threats don't benefit anyone.

Iran "has insisted that threats and sanctions have not resolved any problem and further complicate the path forward, and believes that the only solution is talks on the basis of respect and mutual confidence," IRNA quoted him as saying.

Optimism about an interim agreement had been high when the talks were extended for a third day on Saturday and raised to a ministerial level.

Fabius cited 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.

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