Iran and the P5+1 - the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany - have begun their last round of talks for the year. The meeting is to look at implementing an interim nuclear deal signed last month.
Expert teams from Iran and the P5+1 - comprised of the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - met behind closed doors in Geneva on Monday. During the one-day meeting, they were expected to discuss the details of a six-month freeze on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing of international economic sanctions on Tehran.
Ahead of Monday's round of talks, Iranian news agency IRNA quoted the country's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, as saying he expected negotiations to end early next year and to result in a political deal by the end of January.
Talks aimed at fine-tuning the November accord progressed slowly in December after Washington levied further sanctions against a number of Iranian companies and individuals despite the breakthrough agreement. Iran walked out of a four-day conference in Geneva earlier in the month in protest of the move, which the US contended did not breach the agreement.
Change in direction
Crippling Western sanctions and the election of a new, moderate Iranian president shifted the country's foreign policy toward the West this year. In November, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to a six-month freeze on nuclear development in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions. Terms of the agreement, in particular the West's oversight in Iran's implementation have become a sticking point in reaching a deal.
The current agreement is designed as a first step toward ensuring Iran does not acquire a nuclear arsenal. Under the interim plan, Iran has agreed to cap its uranium enrichment level to 5 percent - well below the 90 percent threshold level required to build a nuclear warhead. It has also agreed to "neutralize" its existing self-confirmed stockpile of 20 percent.
In return, Tehran gets a rollback of sanctions that it is expected might garner the Iranian economy some $7 billion (5.2 billion euros).
If the deal progresses as planned, the P5+1 and Iran will negotiate final-stage agreements.
Tehran has dismissed Western fears that it seeks to build nuclear weapons, instead contending it wants to use its nuclear program for generating electricity. However, Israel remains adamantly against easing pressure on Tehran without dismantling any nuclear development.
kms/se (AFP, Reuters)