Iran and world powers kicked off two days of talks in Geneva Thursday over Tehran’s nuclear program amid cautious optimism that a deal might finally be in sight.
In their second meeting here in less than a month, negotiators from the United States and five other world powers began discussions with Iranian officials at 11:00 am (1000 GMT) in the hope of hammering out an agreement that could end the drawn-out standoff.
Ahead of the talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the negotiations in Geneva about his country’s disputed nuclear program will be “very difficult.”
The West and Israel suspect Iran’s nuclear drive may be aimed at developing atomic weapons, but the Islamic republic insists the program is only for the generation of electricity and medical purposes.
“My colleagues and delegations from the P5+1 countries are starting very difficult negotiations because we have entered a detailed phase that is still difficult and precise,” Zarif said on his Facebook page.
Zarif said he would have a breakfast meeting on Thursday with Catherine Ashton, the EU diplomatic chief who heads the so-called P5+1 group -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.
He would also meet in Geneva with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League peace envoy to Syria, before travelling to Rome for a “few hours” to meet his Italian counterpart Emma Bonino.
In their second meeting in the Swiss city in less than a month, negotiators will sit down with Iran for two days in the hopes of hammering out a framework agreement to end the long-running standoff.
“I believe it is even possible to reach that agreement this week,” Zarif told France 24 television on Tuesday. “But I can only talk for our side, I cannot talk for the other side.”
But the Western side has been more reserved, with Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann saying that the talks “are complex and have entered a serious phase.”
Lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman has expressed hopes that the talks will be a “first step” to resolving the issue, and said that Washington is prepared to offer Iran “very limited, temporary, reversible” relief from sanctions.
Iran’s senior negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, has said that the fresh round of negotiations were “a test of the political will of the P5+1 to reach a solution” to end the nuclear crisis.