GENEVA(MCT) — U.S. diplomats began a second day of international talks over Iran's nuclear program, facing political pressure from Congress if Iran fails to show a new willingness to make concessions by the end of the day.
The two-day negotiating session, begun Tuesday in a United Nations palace, is exploring a deal under which Tehran would agree to curbs on its disputed nuclear program in exchange for an easing of tough international economic penalties and an international blessing for its production of low-enriched uranium.
The six nations involved in the talks fear Tehran has been funding its vast nuclear complex with an eye toward developing a nuclear weapons capability, a charge Tehran denies.
On Tuesday, diplomats from both sides made positive but cautious statements about the progress of the talks. Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, met privately with the U.S. delegation on Tuesday evening in the U.N.'s Palais des Nations, only the second time such a U.S.-Iranian bilateral meeting has happened in seven years of talks.
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, laid out a three-stage Iranian proposal to the group Tuesday morning that he claimed could lead to a deal within a year. But diplomats from other delegations said the Iranians needed to provide more details of what they had in mind. Aragchi told reporters amid four hours of talks Tuesday that he could not claim substantial progress had been made.
Congress has been pressing to hit Iran with more sanctions _ moving toward a total trade embargo _ unless the Geneva meetings show Iran is ready to make concessions, after 10 years of standing its ground in previous negotiations. There has been strong bipartisan support for tougher sanctions from lawmakers, most of whom do not share the Obama administration's concern that strong sanctions could alienate U.S. allies and disrupt diplomatic solutions.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the head of the U.S. delegation, urged the Senate earlier this month to hold off on tough new sanctions legislation until this week's meeting, to give Iran a chance to propose a deal.
"I would hope that you will allow us the time to begin these negotiations (with Iran) and see if, in fact, there is anything real here," Sherman said earlier this month.
Iran would hear "quite directly that if there isn't ... everyone is ready to act," added Sherman.
She said the administration could support new sanctions legislation if Iran doesn't show a new willingness to cooperate, and even offered to work with Congress to develop suitable punishments.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group that supports a diplomatic solution, said the administration needs progress "not just to keep the process alive, but to make sure that Congress doesn't kill it by adding sanctions" at a delicate moment.
The six diplomatic delegations began a meeting with Araghchi at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss "technical work," U.S. officials said. The group was expected to work until at least midafternoon.
Diplomats said there may be another meeting of the group next month.
(c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services