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In remarks broadcast on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the six world powers and Iran were close to a preliminary agreement. His comments came a day after a senior U.S. official said a deal could be reached in the negotiations this coming week.
The previous round of talks in Geneva on Nov. 7-8 appeared close to clinching a deal, but ended without agreement. Western diplomats said one of the obstacles was Iran’s argument that it retains the “right” to enrich uranium.
But in a possible way around the sticking point, Iran’s chief negotiator and foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Sunday that while his country has a right to enrich uranium, it was not insisting others recognise the entitlement.
Iran denies that it wants to develop nuclear weapons capability and insists that its programme is limited to peaceful generation of electricity and medical research.
Netanyahu said the Iranian issue will top the agenda of his talks with Hollande. Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power thanks to French assistance in the 1950s, has praised France for taking a tough stance in Geneva, and Tehran accuses Paris of blocking an agreement.
At the airport ceremony, attended by Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres, Hollande said France was taking Israel’s concerns into account, adding in Hebrew: “I will always remain a friend of Israel.”
Kerry has caused a stir in Israel by accusing it of over-reacting in its opposition to the proposed deal.
“John Kerry is a old friend of mine and is also a friend of Israel,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting, voicing a more conciliatory tone than at the end of an acrimonious visit by the top U.S. diplomat last week.
“I want to clarify that even among the best of friends there can be disagreements, certainly on matters that concern our future and our destiny,” the Israeli leader said.
Legislation to impose tough new sanctions on Iran could come to the floor of the U.S. Senate in the coming week, just as diplomats head to Geneva.
Four Republican senators have written to Obama expressing deep concern about the negotiations. The legislators cited reports that Iran would obtain up to $20 billion in sanctions relief but not be required to shut down centrifuges, close facilities or get rid of enriched uranium.