Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed optimism as Iran and world powers are set to resume talks Thursday on activating a landmark nuclear deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program.
“The nuclear talks are continuing with seriousness and a strong political will,” Agence France-Presse quoted Zarif as saying Wednesday on his Facebook page, adding that hours of technical talks with experts from the so-called P5+1 group of world powers in December had produced “positive results.”
The Geneva talks aimed at putting into action an interim nuclear deal clinched in November are set to resume on Thursday.
Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araqchi, will meet Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton whose office represents the P5+1 group of world powers in the decade-long negotiations with Tehran.
Their talks are due to last for two days.
The U.S. State Department confirmed Wednesday that U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman was also travelling to Geneva to attend the talks.
She would meet with both Araqchi and Schmid, the State Department said in a statement, without confirming reports from Iranian news agencies that there would be a three-way meeting.
Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said the talks will focus on remaining issues “pending a political decision” before the deal can go into effect on Jan. 20, a date mooted by both sides.
According to diplomats, negotiations between Iran and the six powers on implementing the November deal have run into problems over advanced centrifuge research.
Research and development of a new model of advanced nuclear centrifuge that Iran says it has installed is one of the major issues, diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“This issue (centrifuges) was among the main factors in stopping the previous technical discussions on Dec. 19-21,” a Western diplomat said.
Centrifuges are machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in atomic power plants or, if purified to a high level, weapons.
Other Western diplomats confirmed that centrifuges remained a “sticking point” in the talks with Iran but noted that last month’s discussions were understandably adjourned ahead of the December holidays - not because of the centrifuge issue.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration entered 2014 locked in a battle with Congress over whether to plow ahead with new economic sanctions against Iran or cautiously wait to see if last year’s breakthrough nuclear agreement holds.
The Nov. 24 agreement “makes a nuclear Iran more likely,” Senator Marco Rubio told the Associated Press.
Fellow Republican Senator John Cornyn called it an attempt to distract attention from President Barack Obama’s health care rollout.
“We really haven’t gained anything,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said.
The deal “falls short of what is necessary for security and stability in the region,” added Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu.
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