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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of five other world powers joined talks on Iran's contested nuclear program on Saturday with the two sides edging towards a breakthrough to ease a dangerous decade-old standoff.
The Chinese, Russian, French, British and German foreign ministers - Wang Yi, Sergei Lavrov, Laurent Fabius, William Hague and Guido Westerwelle - all pulled up their sleeves to try to seal an interim deal under which Iran would cap its nuclear activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.
Hague and Westerwelle, however, both cautioned that a preliminary accord to turn the page on years of confrontation with the Islamic Republic was not yet guaranteed and that there was much work to do to bridge remaining differences.
"We (foreign ministers) are not here because things are necessarily finished," Hague told reporters. "There is a huge amount of agreement...(But) the remaining gaps are important and we will be turning our attention to those over coming hours. They remain very difficult negotiations."
Under the proposed six-month deal that six major powers are negotiating with Iran in Geneva, Iran would eliminate its current stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent by diluting it or turning it into fuel rods or oxide powder, forms that are unusable for weapons, senior Western officials said Friday.Iran would be allowed to continue to enrich uranium at much lower levels, to 3.5 percent, the officials said, but would also agree to cap its current stockpile of such uranium, by eliminating, diluting or transforming into fuel as much 3.5 percent uranium as it produces over the six months.
The officials spoke about the deal on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations had not been completed.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to London from Geneva on Sunday to meet British and Libyan officials, the U.S. State Department said.
Kerry arrived in Geneva on Saturday to join talks between six major powers and Iran about reining in the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions on Tehran. Foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States attended the discussions.
The United States and some of its allies suspect Iran of using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons. Tehran denies this, saying its program is for purely peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.
Kerry's planned departure for London, where he is to meet British Foreign Minister William Hague and Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan on Sunday, suggests the Iran nuclear talks may wrap up by Sunday, though lower level officials could stay at them.
An Iran nuclear deal within reach, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and five other foreign ministers focused Saturday on the fine print of a draft agreement meant to satisfy not only the other side, but also to placate powerful domestic forces that fear giving too much for too little in return.
Diplomats refused to spell out details of the talks, held in a five-star Geneva hotel. But comments from both sides suggested negotiations focused on detailed wording that could be key in shaping an agreement that both sides could live with.
Even though diplomats were said to be close to a deal after four days of talks, they also warned against expectations that a final agreement was imminent due to the complexity of the issues and the stakes for all sides.
President Barack Obama meets in the Oval Office with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Deputy National Security Advisors Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes, to discuss ongoing negotiations with Iran, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
According to the accord, Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. To make good on that pledge, Iran would dismantle the links between networks of centrifuges.All of Iran’s stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, a short hop to weapons-grade fuel, would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes.No new centrifuges, neither old models nor newer more efficient ones, could be installed. Centrifuges that have been installed but which are not currently operating — Iran has more than 8,000 such centrifuges — could not be started up. No new enrichment facilities could be established.The agreement, however, would not require Iran to stop enriching uranium to a level of 3.5 percent or dismantle any of its existing centrifuges.