x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Iran claims some sanctions to be lifted in nuclear talks breakthrough

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator says deal to cap some of its nuclear activies in exchange for selective relief from economic sanctions has been accepted by six world powers.

GENEVA // Iran’s plan to cap some of its nuclear activities in exchange for selective relief from economic sanctions has been accepted by six world powers, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator said yesterday.

The upbeat comments from Abbas Araghchi, reported by Iranian state TV, suggest that negotiators in Geneva are moving from broad discussions over a nuclear deal to specific steps limiting Tehran’s ability to make nuclear weapons. In return, Iran would start getting relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy.

“Today, they clearly said that they accept the proposed framework by Iran,” Mr Araghchi said.

Although he described the negotiations as “very difficult”, he said he expected agreement on details by today, the last scheduled round of the current talks.

International negotiators, representing the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, declined to comment on Mr Araghchi’s statement.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, echoed Mr Araghchi’s claims.

“The talks went well,” Mr Zarif said. “We are beginning to get to more detailed discussions this afternoon. I’m hopeful that we can move forward.”

“We are making progress but it’s tough,” he said.

The last round of talks three weeks ago reached agreement on a framework of possible discussion points. Yesterday’s talks focused on getting to a “first step” — described by western negotiators as an initial curb on uranium enrichment and other activities.

Although 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.

The initial encounter broke about an hour after it began, possibly to allow consideration of ideas presented by the two sides. European Union spokesman Michael Mann called it a “good opening session”.

But Israel warned yesterday against a proposal to ease sanctions on Iran, saying it would be “a mistake of historic proportions.”

“Israel understands that there are proposals on the table in Geneva today”, which would “allow Iran to retain the capabilities to make nuclear weapons,” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem.

“Israel totally opposes these proposals. I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions,” he said.

Before yesterday’s talks, Mr Zarif had met with top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton, who is convening the meeting.

After nearly a decade of deadlock, Iran seems more amenable to making concessions to the six countries. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, has indicated he could cut back on the nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of sanctions.

Despite the seemingly calmer political backdrop, issues remain.

Iranian hardliners, for example, want significant sanctions reductions in exchange for scaling back enrichment, while some US legislators want the enrichment to stop altogether in exchange for loosening the sanctions.

Officials from two of the delegations said the sanctions relief on offer at this meeting will be limited and is unlikely to affect the core sanctions on Iran’s oil and finance sectors unless Tehran makes sweeping concessions, which is thought to be unlikely.

One negotiating point is expected to centre on Iran’s production of uranium enriched to 20 per cent — a level that is only a technical step short of weapons grade material. Iranian officials have hinted they are ready to discuss western demands both for a production stop and of turning stockpiles into a form that is difficult to use for nuclear arms.

Associated Press with additional reporting from Reuters and Agence France-Presse