Iran and EU move closer to putting nuclear deal into action
Iran and world power representatives agreed Friday on how to implement a landmark deal on containing Tehran's nuclear programme, but stamps of approval from each country are still needed before it can take effect.
Two days of talks in Geneva between high-level Iranian and EU negotiators "made very good progress on all the pertinent issues," Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told AFP.
Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi, who Friday evening wrapped up two days of intense talks in Geneva with Ashton's deputy Helga Schmid, agreed.
"We found solutions for all the points of disagreement," he told Iranian state-run TV.
The EU represents the so-called P5+1 group of world powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany in the decade-long nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Top US nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman also briefly met with Araqchi and Schmid on Thursday.
Negotiators had previously said they want to implement the groundbreaking November 24 deal, which aims to rein in Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for some sanctions relief, by January 20.
But Araqchi stressed Friday that although differences on how to put it into action had been ironed out, "the implementation of the Geneva agreement depends on the final ratification of the capitals".
He would not confirm that the target implementation date remained January 20, stressing that too would be decided by the each country's government, who he said would soon each issue a statement on the issue.
Mann confirmed to AFP that the progress made in Geneva this week "is now under validation at (the) political level in capitals".
Western powers and Israel fear Iran is seeking to develop the atomic bomb under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, but Tehran has always denied this.
Under the November deal, Iran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear drive for six months in exchange for receiving modest relief from international sanctions and a promise by Western powers not to impose new measures against its hard-hit economy.
Technical experts from both sides have since November held several sessions in Geneva aimed at fine-tuning the deal.
But when experts held four days of talks last month in Vienna -- home of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the Iranians walked out after Washington expanded its sanctions blacklist against Tehran.
This week in Geneva, Araqchi and Schmid pored over three outstanding issues, repeatedly breaking off discussions so Schmid could consult with each of the six countries she represented, Araqchi told Iranian TV Thursday evening.
The negotiations had been "good, constructive and intense," he said Friday, without revealing which issues had been debated.
Diplomatic sources have meanwhile said disagreement over a new generation of nuclear centrifuges, which could potentially enable Iran to rapidly purify uranium to a weapons-grade level, might prove a hurdle to rolling out the agreement.
The latest round of talks in Geneva came as Iranian leaders voiced concerns at the slow pace of implementation.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani warned in a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Thursday against "seeking excuses that would create problems in the negotiation process," Iran's ISNA news agency reported.
He also called on "certain countries … to respect their own commitments (under the Geneva deal) and avoid new strictures that would shadow their goodwill".
The interim deal is meant to buy time for diplomacy to clinch a lasting agreement to allay Western suspicions that Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons.