Major powers and Iran are getting closer to a first-stage agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a senior U.S. official said on Friday, adding it is “quite possible” a deal could be reached when negotiators meet Nov. 21-22 in Geneva.
“I don’t know if we will reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can, but there are still tough issues to negotiate,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif were to meet on Nov. 20 in Geneva and a wider group known as the P5+1 - including Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - would meet Iranian officials there on the following two days.
Negotiations last week in Geneva ended without an agreement, as the sides worked to defuse a decade-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged skeptical U.S. lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Iran while negotiations are ongoing and called for a pause in U.S. sanctions.
The U.S. official told reporters that estimates of direct sanctions relief being offered - which have ranged from $15 billion to $50 billion - were “wildly exaggerated.”
“It is way south of all of that and quite frankly it will be dwarfed by the restrictions that are still in place,” the official said.
The official said imposing further sanctions threatened the good faith effort of negotiations not with Iran but also among the six U.N. powers.
“The P5+1 believes these are serious negotiations. They have a chance to be successful,” the official said. “For us to slap on sanctions in the middle of it they see as bad faith.”
Oil prices slipped lower on Friday on the reports that Western powers may reach a deal.
Commenting on a U.N. inspection report released on Nov. 14 that said Iran had stopped expanding its uranium enrichment capacity, the official said it was “a good thing” but did not resolve fundamental questions and concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program.
“We appreciate the step but the reason for our negotiation is to get at certainty that Iran can’t have a nuclear weapon and we are a long way from that,” the official added.