‘Iran, world powers to announce initial deal as early as Friday’

Sides preparing ‘joint draft’ ahead of possible agreement, the Wall Street Journal reports; Kerry committed to ‘narrowing differences’

P5+1 delegations meet for talks on Iran's nuclear program at in Geneva November 7, 2013. (Photo credit: State Department/Twitter)
P5+1 delegations meet for talks on Iran's nuclear program at in Geneva November 7, 2013. (Photo credit: State Department/Twitter)

The P5+1 world powers and Iran are reportedly set to announce an initial deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program as early as Friday, marking a breakthrough in the second round negotiations that have been taking place in Geneva.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal,  the two sides were “jointly preparing a draft” ahead of the possible announcement.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was making his way to Geneva Friday to participate in the talks — a last-minute decision that further suggests a deal could be imminent.

A senior State Department official said that Kerry had been open to the possibility of traveling to Geneva for the talks “if it would help narrow differences.”

The official said European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, asked Kerry to attend the latest round of discussions. The official called the negotiations “a complex process” and said Kerry was “committed to doing anything he can” to help.

On Thursday, the US delegation led by Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman held bilateral talks with the Iranian delegation headed by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks.

“It was a substantive and serious conversation,” said a US official who was in the meeting.

The deal could see international sanctions on Iran scaled back in exchange for Iran halting and possibly reversing parts of its nuclear program.

According to Britain’s Telegraph, the deal’s four main points were that Iran would stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and convert its existing stockpile into harmless uranium oxide. Iran would be able to continue enrichment to 3.5% purity necessary for nuclear power plants — but would agree to limit the number of centrifuges running for this purpose. The inactive centrifuges would be able to remain intact. Iran would also agree not to activate its plutonium reactor at Arak, which could provide an alternative route to a nuclear weapon, during the six-month period in which Iran will limit uranium enrichment to 3.5%. Lastly, Iran would agree not to use the advanced IR-2 centrifuges, which enrich uranium three to five times faster than the older model.

In return, the British paper reported, the US “would ease economic sanctions, possibly by releasing some Iranian foreign exchange reserves currently held in frozen accounts” and ease “some restrictions on Iran’s petrochemical, motor and precious metals industries.”

“One idea being explored to help Tehran in the short term,” the Wall Street Journal reported, “[was] to establish a financial mechanism to help Iran unfreeze as much as $50 billion in oil export revenue that Tehran has been blocked from repatriating from Asian and European banks.”

“The mechanism would amount to one-time relief from the banking and oil sanctions, leaving them broadly in place,” the report went on.

The last round of talks between the world powers and Tehran three weeks ago reached agreement on a framework of possible discussion points. The two sides kicked off Thursday’s round focused on getting to a “first step” — described by Western negotiators as an initial curb on uranium enrichment and other activities.

Though Tehran says it needs to do this work for peaceful purposes, the United States and its allies fear that Iran could turn it to use to arm warheads with fissile material.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Thursday that the offer to Tehran would be a “mistake of historic proportions” and a “deal of the century” for Iran.

Sanctions had brought Iran to the brink of economic collapse, and the P5+1 countries have the opportunity to force Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program, the prime minister said. “Anything less than that” would reduce the likelihood of a peaceful solution to the crisis, he said, and Israel would always reserve to protect itself against any threat.

In an interview with Channel 2 Thursday night, Kerry defended the overtures to Tehran, stressing that the negotiators in Geneva were requiring Iran to “provide a complete freeze over where they are today.” He argued that it was “better” to be talking to Iran, and seeking to “expand” the time it would take Iran to break out to the bomb, than not to be talking to Iran, and have it continuing to advance its nuclear program. “We have not taken away any of the sanctions yet,” he said. “We will not undo the major sanctions regime until we have absolute clarity,” he said.

If Iran did not “meet the standards” required by the international community, Kerry said, it knew “worse sanctions” were in prospect, and even, as the “clock ticks down… there may be no option but the military option. We hope to avoid that.”

All diplomatic options had to be exhausted before a resort to force, he said.

US President Barack Obama made similar comments on NBC News Thursday night, saying an interim deal with Iran could provide “very modest relief” from international sanctions and that the bulk of them would remain in place.

“There is the possibility of a phased agreement in which the first phase would be us, you know, halting any advances on their nuclear program, rolling some potential back, and putting in place… some very modest relief, but keeping the sanctions architecture in place,” Obama said.

“We don’t have to trust them. What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they’re doing,” he added.

AP contributed to this report.

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