GENEVA (MCT) - A senior Obama administration official cautioned Monday that "no one should expect a breakthrough overnight" in international talks that begin here Tuesday on Iran's disputed nuclear program, despite rising hopes of a diplomatic solution.
As negotiators from six world powers and Iran gathered for two days of talks, the official said that while Iran has given encouraging signs that it is ready compromise, any search for a solution will be "very, very difficult. ... We know that the road will have bumps in it."
The chances of an agreement being reached in two days are quite low," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. "This is complicated work."
The official was seeking to lower expectations at a time when developments have suggested that Iran and the West may be on the verge of a compromise after 10 years of stalled negotiations. After two months of overtures, President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke on the telephone Sept. 27 about their desire to resolve the long nuclear impasse, and possibly to improve relations.
The official acknowledged that in the past three weeks the Iranians have not provided any further details of the diplomatic plan that they broadly outlined at the United Nations meetings in New York in September. U.S. officials asked the Iranians then to provide more details so the United States and the other participants could better respond at this week's meetings.
The six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - are seeking a compromise that will assure that Iran's nuclear program is not aimed at developing the ability to build a nuclear weapon, as many countries fear. Iran wants a deal to ease economic sanctions that global powers have imposed as punishment, but Iran is seeking to retain as much of its nuclear complex as it can.
Iranians have given signs in recent days that they are ready for a new effort to reach a deal, but that they remain unwilling to put tough limits on a nuclear program that many Iranians consider a national treasure.
Officials quoted in Iran's state-controlled press are saying they are ready to stop production of medium-enriched uranium, a material that can be relatively easily converted for use as bomb fuel. But they are also insisting that Iran won't stop production of low-enriched uranium, and that the country won't close its underground enrichment facility at Fordo, or the Arak heavy-water plant that critics fear is intended to open the way to a plutonium-based nuclear weapon.
Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister and a key nuclear negotiator, was quoted by the Iran Student News Agency as saying the negotiating team will offer a three-part program that lays out a "road map" for resolving the dispute. Araghchi said the long-term plan was intended to gradually build trust on both sides, and would require the West to ease the economic sanctions.
The news agency quoted officials as saying Iran would not insist on upfront guarantees of what it considers its right to enrich uranium. But the six other nations involved in the talks would have to acknowledge that they would support Iranian low-level enrichment at the end of talks if all went well, officials were quoted as saying.
Although Iran continues to refuse to send any enriched uranium outside the country, it is willing to grant the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency more access to its nuclear facilities, news agencies reported. The Iranians also signaled that they are willing to deal directly with the United States.
- Mostaghim, a special correspondent, reported from Tehran, Iran.
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