World powers have resumed talks with Iran in Geneva about a draft deal that would limit Tehran's nuclear capabilities. While diplomats are optimistic about a deal, Iran's supreme leader has voiced pessimism.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany, reopened talks with Iran on its nuclear program in Geneva late on Wednesday.
A previous meeting earlier this month yielded some progress on a potential deal with Tehran, but stumbled over Iran's insistence that its "right" to enrich uranium be explicitly recognised.
The talks headed into Thursday with a initial meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, and the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
She coordinates contacts with Iran on behalf of the powers, before a full plenary meeting of Iran and the six nations.
Earlier, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a televised address had insisted that his country was "not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation."
He also accused Israel of trying to prevent a deal from being reached in Geneva.
Israel has repeatedly warned the P5+1 (as the constellation of permanent Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US along with Germany is called) not to accept a "bad deal" with Iran.
The tricky way forward
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a spokeswoman for the French government, said Wednesday that Khameinei's comments were "unacceptable and [complicated] negotiations."
The West fears Iran could be using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. Iran has long maintained, however, that its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and other civilian uses.
Visiting Istanbul on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Geneva talks were "the best chance for a long time to make progress on one of the gravest problems in foreign policy."
Zarif said on the eve of the meeting that there was "every possibility" of a successful conclusion provided there was good faith among all those involved.
Obama asks for more time
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama tried to head off US lawmakers' calls for a hard line on Iran by asking Congress to hold back on imposing fresh sanctions against Iran in order to give diplomacy a chance.
Obama told the top Democrats and Republicans gathered for a two-hour closed-door meeting at the White House that "new sanctions should not be enacted during the current negotiations," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
ipj/jr (AP, Reuters, AFP)