Washington Iranian and European negotiators have found solutions to "all" their disagreements over how to implement the Geneva nuclear deal, Iran's deputy chief negotiator said last night (Friday), in a move that could pave the way for a final deal to contain Tehran's nuclear programme. "We found solutions for all the points of disagreements," Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state television at the end of two days of talks in Geneva that he described as "good, constructive and intense".
A spokesman for the EU said "very good" progress was made "on all the pertinent issues", but added that results of the talks - involving Mr Araqchi and Helga Schmid, deputy to Baroness Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief - still had to be validated by more senior officials. In Washington, Jen Psaki, the US State Department spokesman, said technical talks were making good progress but reports that a deal had been finalised were inaccurate.
Any agreement needs to be signed off in the capitals of the so-called P5+1 group of world powers - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany. Under the terms of the interim deal agreed in November, Iran agreed to suspend parts of its nuclear enrichment programme, which Western powers and Israel say is a thinly-disguised attempt to develop a nuclear bomb. The six months of "breathing space" is designed to create a window of opportunity for a comprehensive agreement. In return, Iran was granted limited sanctions relief that was valued at $7 billion (pounds 4.25bn) by the powers.
Reports of an interim agreement came as the organisers of the elite World Economic Forum confirmed that Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, would both attend this month's event in Davos. There was no immediate word that the two leaders would meet, but Mr Netanyahu has fiercely opposed the nuclear deal, arguing that the US and the world powers are striking a bad bargains. Fears among sceptics that Iran was outflanking the world powers deepened yesterday with a report from Reuters news agency that Iran and Russia were broking an oil-for-goods swap worth $1.5?billion (pounds 900?million) a month that would let Iran lift oil exports substantially, in defiance of Western sanctions. The report, if confirmed, would seriously undermine US and British claims that the sanctions relief granted to Iran was "limited and targeted", and could see Russia unilaterally draining negotiating leverage from the US and the EU. Senate aides from both Democrat and Republican parties warned that the news would hurt White House attempts to head off new sanctions legislation in Congress. "Our only hope of avoiding war is keeping economic pressure in place until Iran dismantles its nuclear infrastructure," one aide said.