Cautious Optimism As Iran Nuclear Talks Resume

Envoys from Iran and six world powers are set to resume talks in Geneva Wednesday on Iran's suspect nuclear program. Considerable progress was made in the last round on an interim deal that would temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear program while easing some of the international economic sanctions. There are cautious hopes on both sides that the interim deal can be finalized at this session.

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Negotiators for Iran and six world powers returned to Switzerland to discuss limiting Iran's nuclear program. After reportedly coming close to a first-step deal earlier this month, some officials say an agreement is within reach this week. But critics warn a deal would be dangerous.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Geneva and has this report.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The combination of positive signals from Iran, dire warnings from Israel and other critics, and more details of a possible agreement is again raising expectations, leaving negotiators to caution that they're not there yet. The latest signs that Tehran is serious about an accord include a new agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, granting inspectors more access to Iran's nuclear sites.

Analyst Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies says the most recent IAEA report on Iran is the first in years to show no significant advance in its ability to enrich uranium. Fitzpatrick sees the influence of Iran's president, Hasan Rouhani.

MARK FITZPATRICK: And that's obviously a political decision on his part - a tactical decision, not a strategic change in their policy. But an effort to show that, yes, they can accept some limits.

KENYON: Another positive signal comes from Iran's foreign minister on the key issue of whether Iran has a right to enrich uranium under the non-proliferation treaty. Analyst Ali Vaez with the International Crisis Group says Mohammad Javad-Zarif told an Iranian news agency that Tehran may not after all require an explicit recognition of that right from the international side.

ALI VAEZ: They're also coming into the talks with Foreign Minister Zarif confirming that recognition of Iran's right to enrichment is not a must, because Iran already believes that it has such a right in the NPT and doesn't need necessarily the other side to recognize it. And this was for the longest time one of the most contentious issues in these talks.

KENYON: Zarif's comment aligns with remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry and a senior Obama administration official, who both indicated that the issue could be finessed in a first-step deal.

It remains for the negotiators to nail down the details on issues such as whether Iran will halt construction on a heavy-water reactor at Arak, and how it will deal with its stockpile of near 20 percent enriched uranium - the closest thing Iran has to weapons grade fuel.

Analyst Vaez says heightened expectations and increased mobilization by critics, suggest that more delays now could spell trouble for an agreement.

VAEZ: Already the last meeting in Geneva, when the two sides really couldn't bridge the gap, we've witnessed some leaking of information, some accusations that really threatened this positive momentum. And if this positive momentum is lost, I think it would be very difficult to recreate these favorable circumstances.

KENYON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to call the potential agreement a bad deal. And the administration has struggled to convince congressional hawks that slapping on new sanctions now would be seen as an act of bad faith not just by Iran, but by America's negotiating partners and countries around the world.

In Iran, lawmakers say any new sanctions would certainly drive Iran from the negotiating table. And Iran's determinedly optimistic nuclear negotiators are well aware that in Tehran, hard-line suspicions about compromising with America go all the way to the top.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: In remarks posted to supreme leader Ali Khamenei's website, he says the problem between Iran and the U.S. isn't the nuclear program. If that's solved, he says other problems will rise up: Why do you have rockets? Why are you against Israel? Khamenei says American sanctions began with the Islamic Revolution in Iran and have only gotten worse since.

In what some analysts are calling the latest salvo against the talks, a group of Iranian dissidents alleged that Iran has another secret underground nuclear site. No evidence was provided to back up the claim.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Geneva.

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