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Kerry joins Iran nuke talks in major push for a deal

US Secretary of State John Kerry has unexpectedly decided to attend talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva. His Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif, has said that he believes a deal is within reach.

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Signs of compromise in Iran nuclear dispute

Secretary of State Kerry upended his Mideast tour to attend talks on Iran's disputed atomic program in Geneva on Friday. The last-minute decision suggests negotiators may be close to striking a deal that would ease sanctions in return for a stop in Tehran's nuclear development.

A US State Department official travelling with Kerry told the Associated Press that the secretary of state would attend the talks, at the invitation of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in order “to help narrow differences in the negotiations." The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"We have always said that a diplomatic solution, through dialogue and diplomacy, to the Iranian nuclear file is something that not only we welcome but something that we support and appreciate," Kerry told reporters in Amman, Jordan on Thursday.

Before heading to Geneva, Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Shortly before meeting with the secretary of state, Nentyahu said that he rejects the deal being discussed with Iran.

"Israel utterly rejects it, and what I am saying is shared by many in the regon, whether or not they express that publicly," Netanyahu said. "Israel is not obliged by this agreement, and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and the security of its people."

"I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva as well they should be because they got everything and paid nothing," Netanyahu said.

Iranian, Russian optimism

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif told US broadcaster CNN that he believed "it is possible to reach an understanding or an agreement before we close these negotiations tomorrow evening."

And Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, told CNN that the so-called P5+1 nations "clearly said that they accept the proposed framework by Iran." P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US - plus Germany. Araghchi later told CNN that negotiators are “ready to start drafting” an agreement.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Friday that there had been "very positive changes" in the positions of the P5+1 on Iran's nuclear program. He said Moscow hopes for a "concrete result" that is acceptable to both sides.

'Very modest relief'

In an interview with US broadcaster NBC on Thursday, US President Barack Obama described a "phased agreement" in which the bulk of the sanctions against Iran would remain in place.

"We don't have to trust them," President Obama told NBC News. "What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they're doing."

"There is the possibility of a phased agreement in which the first phase would be us, you know, halting any advances on their nuclear program, rolling some potential back, and putting in place … some very modest relief, but keeping the sanctions architecture in place," Obama said.

New momentum for a deal

After years without progress, there has been a major push to reach a deal on Iran's disputed nuclear program since the election of President Hasan Rouhani. The current Iranian president is viewed as a moderate compared to his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

At the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, Secretary of State Kerry met with Foreign Minister Zarif, the highest level face-to-face meeting between US and Iranian officials in decades. President Obama also held a historic phone call with President Rouhani.

But US ally Israel has been skeptical of the latest diplomatic push. Israeli officials have warned against any deal that lifts sanctions before the adoption of a final accord, which completely eliminates any possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

At a meeting with US legislators, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of "the deal of the century for Iran." While Netanyahu gave no details, he said the initial steps proposed at Geneva "will relieve all the [sanctions] pressure inside Iran."

slk/dr (AP, AFP)

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