Iran and six world powers were Friday night scrambling to sign an historic interim deal to rein in the Iranian nuclear programme, even as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, tried to scupper the agreement.
Foreign ministers from the US, Britain, France and Germany yesterday converged on Geneva in a last-minute move to sign a preliminary deal with Iran, which would be the first substantive pact on the nuclear issue in many years.
Diplomats said that the talks had made considerable progress and indicated that an agreement could be reached late last night or today, although they stressed that there were still obstacles.
Even before a deal was announced in Geneva, Mr Netanyahu said Israel “utterly rejects” the agreement being discussed and launched a withering attack of the diplomatic efforts. “Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to defend itself, to defend the security of its people,” Mr Netanyahu said.
The Israeli leader, whose views have a lot of influence in the US Congress, said Iran was being rewarded with relief from sanctions without making substantial concessions.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, rejected Mr Netanyahu’s criticism as “premature” because no deal had been reached.
Just six months after the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, the deal would see Iran freezing development of most of its nuclear programme, which western powers believe is aimed at building a nuclear bomb. In return, the US and EU will peel back some of the sanctions they have imposed on Iran, although the core package of energy and banking restrictions will probably remain untouched for now.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, who interrupted a trip to the Middle East to travel to Geneva, stressed that the parties had not yet reached a deal. “We hope to narrow [the] differences but no one should mistake that there are some important gaps that have to be closed,” he said after arriving in Geneva.
He met last night with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who co-ordinates the E3+3 group of the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
While the final details of any interim agreement have yet to be published, the US has been pushing for Iran to cease producing more highly enriched uranium, for limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity and a more intrusive inspection regime.