GENEVA - The third round of talks between the six world powers and Iran will open here this afternoon, as the sides attempt to reach an interim agreement for the suspension of Tehran's nuclear development program in return for an easing of the international sanctions on the Islamic Republic's economy.
Diplomats who have been following the negotiations assessed that over the last two weeks, “beneath the radar” talks continued between the sides, mainly between Iran and the United States, and new drafts of an agreement were prepared. But to keep expectations down, there is no official plan for foreign ministers to join the talks as they did two weeks ago. However, the fact that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is not arriving in Israel this week, despite a prior announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, has raised speculation that Kerry and his colleagues believe an agreement will be reached in this round of talks, and that they are planning to arrive in Geneva for the signing. While two days were originally allocated for the previous rounds of talks, this round is scheduled to last three days and the sides are prepared for the talks to continue into the weekend.
As of last night, an official schedule for the talks had not been released but according to various sources, the first official contact will be a working lunch between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who is leading the talks on behalf of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. Following the Zarif-Ashton lunch, the negotiating teams are slated to hold their first working session.
On the agenda will be an amended version of the agreement almost signed at the previous round of talks two weeks ago. Iran refused to sign after objecting to changes to the agreement put in at the urging of the French government. The main points of disagreement regard the 200 kilograms of uranium Iran has already enriched to a 20-percent level of purity, and the building of a new heavy-water plutonium reactor at Arak. Iran is refusing at this stage to relinquish the enriched uranium and to suspending building at Arak. The Iranians are also demanding recognition of their right to continue enriching uranium (though over the weekend they suggested it would be sufficient for them to declare this right while the international community did not refer to it.)
Aside from Zarif and Ashton, the government representatives at the talks are the political directors of their foreign ministries, not by the foreign ministers themselves.
The first crack to appear in the consensus of the previous round was when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius broke the media blackout during the talks to criticize the agreement in an interview with a French radio station. The organizers are trying to prevent a reoccurrence and have announced that the lobby of the hotel where the delegations are staying will be closed off to journalists throughout the talks.