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Third Round of Nuclear Talks Between Iran, World Powers Opens in Geneva

Luncheon attended by Iranian FM and European Union foreign policy chief described by officials as 'positive'; Netanyahu after meeting with Putin: Better agreement is possible to reach.

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GENEVA - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday the issue of whether Iran will ultimately be allowed to enrich uranium will not be decided in an interim deal under discussion between major world powers and Iranian officials in Geneva.
"Whatever a country decides or doesn't decide to do, or is allowed to do under the rules, depends on a negotiation," Kerry told reporters.

"We are at the initial stage of determining whether or not there is a first step that could be taken, and that certainly will not be resolved in any first step, I can assure you," he added.

A senior United States official warned earlier that it would be "very hard" to clinch a breakthrough nuclear deal this week, as the talks with Iran resumed in Geneva on Wednesday.

"I think we can (get a deal), whether we will, we will have to see because it is hard. It is very hard ... If it was easy to do, it would have been done a long time ago," the official said.

He added that the vast majority of sanctions would remain intact after any initial pact and that Washington would "vigorously" implement them.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. said that sanctions on Iran will be alleviated in return for an interim agreement, but that sanctions relief would be "balanced, targeted, limited and reversible."

The U.S. official also said he "understands [Prime Minister] Netanyahu has to call things how he sees them. We share joint objective, preventing Iranian nuclear weapon."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow, said on Wednesday Moscow is optimistic about talks in Geneva and that he hopes a mutually acceptable solution will be found.

Netanyahu, in remarks after the meeting with Putin, said "we believe it is possible to reach a better agreement, but it requires us to be consistent and persistent."

The talks in Geneva began with a luncheon attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is heading the talks for the P5 + 1 countries – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

A European Union spokesperson called the meeting "positive" and the Iranian Fars News Agency quoted Zarif as calling the meeting "good," adding, "we are now talking about the protocol for talks, not the draft." His deputy Seyed Abbas Araghchi said: "If we reach good results today, we will discuss the draft tomorrow. The lost trust must be revived."

Speaking in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was hopeful of positive results from the talks in Geneva, Reuters reported. Putin was due to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday.

British Foreign Minister William Hague called the nuclear talks an "historic opportunity." During a visit to Istanbul, Hague said that "a deal is on the table that would be in the interest of all nations including countries across the Middle East. The differences that remain between the parties are narrow and I believe they can be bridged through political will and commitment," he said at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The luncheon was followed by a plenary meeting of the Iranian delegation with the P5 +1 negotiating teams, meant to try and bridge gaps that remained from the previous round of talks 10 days ago and reach an accepted formula of a preliminary agreement to restrict Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic relief. The meeting lasted only 15 minutes, indicating that all protocol issues are under control.

The talks are expected to continue until Friday, but they may be extended if deemed necessary. It the talks reach the point of signing an agreement, the foreign ministers of the six countries will go to Geneva.

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif posted Tuesday a video on YouTube in which he said the world should take advantage of the opportunity created to resolve the nuclear crisis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vehemently opposes the emerging accord with Iran, continued his efforts to persuade the six powers, and met again on Tuesday morning with French President Francois Hollande and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius before their departure from Israel.

As part of Netanyahu’s attempts to persuade the six powers not to sign a deal with Iran, Netanyahu flew Wednesday morning for Moscow, where he is meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The latter spoke on the phone Monday to Iranian President Hassan Rohani. After the call, Putin released a statement that he believed an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 was closer than ever.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton sits next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the United Nations offices, in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.Credit: AP

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