Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By JOBY WARRICK and JASON REZAIAN
The Washington Post
VIENNA — Diplomats from the United States and other world powers prepared Monday to put Iran's new leadership to a critical test during two days of talks that could decide whether the decade-old crisis over the country's nuclear program can be peacefully resolved.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. Diplomats from the United States and other world powers prepared Monday to put Iran's new leadership to a critical test during two days of talks that could decide whether the decade-old crisis over the country's nuclear program can be peacefully resolved.
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
The negotiations, set to begin Tuesday in Geneva, are the first since June's surprise election of President Hassan Rouhani, the moderate cleric whose promises of improved diplomatic engagement with the West have raised hopes for progress toward a deal.
U.S. and Iranian officials both sought to lower expectations for the talks while also warning that time for diplomacy could be short. Rouhani faces pressure at home to quickly win relief from economic sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy, while Israeli officials have threatened a military strike to stop what they see as a steady march to a nuclear weapons capability.
"We're at a moment of huge magnitude," said Ambassador William Luers, a veteran U.S. diplomat and a leader of the Iran Project, a group of former State Department and national security officials who advocate a more robust diplomacy to improve ties with Iran.
At issue in the talks is whether the sides can agree on a plan for strict curbs on Iran's production of nuclear fuel in exchange for gradual lifting of economic sanctions. Rouhani, who faces a political challenge from hard-line conservatives at home, has sent conflicting signals through aides in recent days on what kinds of limits he might be willing to accept.
"Rouhani has to be able to produce, and sooner rather than later," said Dennis Ross, formerly the Obama administration's chief adviser on Iran. "He has raised expectations that he will be able to do something about sanctions."
The Iranian delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, will meet in Geneva with diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members_the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia, along with Germany _a bloc known as the P5-plus-One. A previous round ended in deadlock in April. Presidential elections in Iran two months later replaced hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Zarif issued what appeared to be an appeal for Iranian unity in a posting on his Facebook account on the eve of the talks.
"I am sure that the majority of our people, from different political views and factions, have faith in the government's foreign policy and support us in going after our national interests," Zarif said in the posting.
U.S. officials expect Iran to present its ideas about how the nuclear controversy could ultimately be resolved, a rough outline that could include a commitment by Iran to halt production of a kind of uranium that can be easily converted to bomb-grade fuel. Western officials are expected to push for still deeper cuts and more intrusive inspections to rule out any possibility that Iran could use its nuclear program to make a bomb. Iran insists that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons.
Abbas Araghchi, a lead member of Iran's delegation to Geneva, said his country was prepared to make significant concessions. He insisted Iran would never give up its right to make enriched uranium, or allow its uranium stockpile to be moved to a third country.
"Enrichment and transfer of uranium are our red lines," Araghchi said. "We will never give away any of our rights, which are set under international treaties."
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