If an interim deal materialises, Tehran likely to get limited sanctions relief

The lengthy see-saw negotiations between Iran and the six global powers may be inching towards a successful culmination — the guarded optimism of a likely breakthrough anchored by the arrival in Geneva of the Foreign Ministers of the sextet, and statements by Iranians that a deal was now within grasp.

Arriving on Friday in Geneva — the venue of Iran’s nuclear talks with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sounded upbeat when he said that “for the first time in many years the six world powers and Iran have a real opportunity to reach an agreement.”

The Iranian side reciprocated the sense of optimism of some of its interlocutors. “Reaching an agreement is close,” said Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister during an interaction with the media in Geneva on Saturday. But, he noted that there are two or three issues where differences continue to persist.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif revealed that negotiators were focussed on writing the possible agreement, addressing the points of differences specifically.

Analysts say Iran and the global powers have, during negotiations, homed on to certain specifics: Iran’s right to carry out uranium enrichment in principle; a freeze in production of uranium enriched to 20 per purity, and rendering the existing stockpile of this material unusable. This can be done by turning the enriched material into fuel assemblies or uranium oxide powder, which cannot be reconverted to its original state, ensuring that the stockpile, if enriched further, is kept out of a possible weapons route.

The negotiators may also be trying to arrive at a formulation that would allow Iran to enrich uranium to the 3. 5 per cent level, required as fuel for atomic power plants, so long as the existing stockpile of this material remains unchanged. This is possible if the freshly produced enriched uranium is either turned into fuel or diluted, so that overall 3.5 per cent stockpile with Iran does not expand.

In case an interim deal materialises, Iran is likely to get limited sanctions relief, amounting to less than $ 5 billion, to be released in phases over six months. It is estimated that sanctions have prevented Iran from accessing more than $20 billion of its foreign exchange reserves of $80 billion, with the rest being either frozen in European banks or accumulated with China, India , Japan, South Korea or Turkey — the principal buyers of Iranian crude. The agreement, if realised, would have a six month life span — sufficient to work out a final and comprehensive deal, resting on the foundations of a reciprocal and escalating spiral of confidence building measures.

U.S. officials accompanying Mr. Kerry in Geneva said the American delegation would continue “to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement.”

The U.S. top diplomat later closeted with Mr. Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Prior to this meeting, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov had also confabulated for 30 minutes.

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