AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on a mobilephone after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Netanyahu, before meeting with Kerry, said Friday that he "utterly rejects" the emerging nuclear deal between western powers and Iran, calling it a "bad deal" and promising that Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself. (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool) The Associated Press
Iran and six world powers haven't reached any deal yet that would end Tehran's decade-long standoff with the West over its nuclear program, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.
"I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point," Kerry told reporters shortly after arriving in Geneva. "I don't think anybody should mistake that there are some important gaps that have to be closed."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains strongly opposed to any concessions to Iran. After meeting with Kerry in Israel, he criticized a potential agreement, calling it "a very, very bad deal."
In remarks reported by his media adviser, Netanyahu said:
"Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge, but the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years. Iran gets everything that it wanted at this stage and pays nothing. And this is when Iran is under severe pressure.
"I urge Secretary Kerry not to rush to sign, to wait, to reconsider, to get a good deal. But this is a bad deal, a very, very bad deal. It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community."
The decision by western powers to send diplomats to Geneva came after signs that global powers and Iran were close to a first-stage deal that would cap some of Iran's suspected nuclear programs in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not plan to attend. There was no word from Beijing on any plans by the Chinese foreign minister to join his colleagues.
"We're making progress," said Michael Man, the spokesman for top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton, who is the talks' convenor.
Israel has frequently dangled the prospect of military action against Iran should negotiations fail to reach the deal it seeks — a total shutdown of uranium enrichment and other nuclear programs Tehran says are peaceful but which could technically be turned toward weapons.
Even if an agreement is reached, it would only be the start of a long process to reduce Iran's potential nuclear threat, with no guarantee of ultimate success.
Still, an initial accord would mark a breakthrough after nearly a decade of mostly inconclusive talks focused on limiting, if not eliminating, Iranian atomic programs that could be turned from producing energy into making weapons.
Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state TV on Thursday that the six — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — "clearly said that they accept the proposed framework by Iran." He later told CNN that he thinks negotiators at the table are now "ready to start drafting" an accord that outlines specific steps to be taken.
Size and output
Though Araghchi described the negotiations as "very difficult," he told Iranian state TV that he expected agreement on details by Friday, the last scheduled round of the current talks.
The talks are primarily focused on the size and output of Iran's enrichment program, which can create both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material suitable for a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it is pursuing only nuclear energy, medical treatments and research, but the United States and its allies fear that Iran could turn this material into the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
President Barack Obama, in an interview with NBC on Thursday, described any sanctions relief as "modest" but said core sanctions against Iran would remain in place.
"Our job is not to trust the Iranians," Obama said. "Our job is to put in place mechanisms where we can verify what they're doing and not doing when it comes to their nuclear program."
International negotiators representing the six powers declined to comment on Araghchi's statement. Bur White House spokesman Jay Carney elaborated on what the U.S. calls a "first step" of a strategy meant to ultimately contain Iran's ability to use its nuclear program to make weapons.
An initial agreement would "address Iran's most advanced nuclear activities; increase transparency so Iran will not be able to use the cover of talks to advance its program; and create time and space as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement," Carney told reporters in Washington.
The six would consider "limited, targeted and reversible relief that does not affect our core sanctions," he said, alluding to penalties crippling Tehran's oil exports. If Iran reneges, said Carney, "the temporary, modest relief would be terminated, and we would be in a position to ratchet up the pressure even further by adding new sanctions."
He described any temporary, initial relief of sanctions as likely "more financial rather than technical." Diplomats have previously said initial sanction rollbacks could free Iranian funds in overseas accounts and allow trade in gold and petrochemicals.