Negotiators move closer on Iran nuclear pact

Iran and a group of six world powers moved closer on Friday to carrying out the nuclear agreement reached in November, with the Iranian side saying all outstanding issues have been resolved.

The agreement, which still requires final approval by all the governments, would temporarily halt some of Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and deputy nuclear negotiator, said “we found solutions for all the points of disagreements” during a two-day meeting in Geneva with his counterpart representing the so-called P5-plus-1 countries: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, which are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany.

A spokesman for that side — represented by Helga Schmid, deputy to the lead negotiator, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official — issued a statement that did not go quite as far as Iran’s, saying both sides had made “very good progress on all the pertinent issues.”

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, referred reporters to the same statement.

The talks in Geneva were held against a backdrop of rising pressure to put in effect the agreement reached nearly two months ago. That pact was hailed at the time as a breakthrough that could lead to a resolution of the decade-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities. Western countries and Israel say those activities are a cloak to achieve the capacity to make nuclear weapons, while Iran says they are purely for peaceful purposes.

The six-month duration specified in the agreement was meant to give negotiators time to reach a far more comprehensive accord. But the diplomatic process has come under extreme criticism, albeit for different reasons, both from sanctions advocates in the United States and hard-line conservatives in Iran.

The sanctions advocates, including a growing number of congressional lawmakers, say Iran already has exploited the diplomacy to advance what they call its military nuclear ambitions and to circumvent the sanctions.

Their criticism deepened with a report by Reuters on Friday, quoting anonymous sources in Iran and Russia, that both countries were close to completing an oil-for-goods swap worth $1.5 billion a month to Iran that would substantially raise its oil exports, which have been severely constrained by the sanctions. Russian and Iranian officials did not comment on the Reuters report.

Particularly upsetting to advocates of sanctions was that Russia is a member of the P5-plus-1 group.

“This reckless and irresponsible move raises serious questions about Russia’s commitment to ending Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “This swap would give Iran the impression that it doesn’t have to implement the interim agreement or negotiate a final agreement in order to resume its engagement with the international community.”

In the Senate, support has grown for new sanctions legislation that could come to a vote in coming weeks despite Obama administration pleas for a delay. Iran has said such a measure would kill further diplomacy.

In Iran, objections to the diplomacy have come from the conservative constituency that was partly sidelined with the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, considered a relatively moderate cleric. He had pledged to resolve the nuclear dispute through negotiation and free the nation from the sanctions. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given Mr. Rouhani’s administration some latitude. But he has often denounced the United States, a reflection of his suspicion about American intentions and a legacy of the long estrangement between the two countries.

A disciple of the ayatollah’s, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, who led the Friday Prayer in Tehran, reminded the Iranian negotiators that the United States is “the Great Satan” and cannot be trusted.

“Do not be deceived by their smiles,” he said in a sermon reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency. “The enemy is the enemy.”

By The New York Times

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