No confirmation Iran deal is near, despite Kerry's Geneva trip

Hannah Allam

Secretary of State John Kerry will depart for Geneva today, the State Department announced, ending speculation about whether he would appear as an international deal takes shape to curtail Iran's nuclear program.

Hours after hedging on the topic at the daily briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed via her official Twitter account that Kerry would be going to Geneva "with the goal of continuing to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement."

Earlier, at the briefing, she'd said only that Kerry would be open to attending the talks, and added that a decision to go didn't signal the close of a deal. Psaki said Kerry could arrive in Geneva and find documents to go over or have to "roll up his sleeves" for more talks.

Pressure for Kerry to attend increased Friday when his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, arrived in Geneva. A State Department notice of Kerry's trip said that the decision was made "after consulting with EU High Representative Ashton and the negotiating team on the ground."

Psaki stressed that Kerry's presence wasn't necessarily a sign that a deal was finalized, or even close.

"Talks are ongoing right now. At the same time, technical experts are also meeting," Psaki said at the briefing, before Kerry's travel had been announced. "So because of that, and because, of course, negotiations are fluid, our sleeves are rolled up, we’re knee-deep in the negotiations, but I can’t give a specific update to all of you on where the text stands."

"Even if the secretary travels, it’s not a prediction of the outcome," Psaki added. "These negotiations are ongoing. They still would be. There are tough issues on the table. That’s what the negotiating team is working through."

The U.S. and five other major powers are meeting this week with Iran for the third time in five weeks to work out the first stage of a comprehensive accord to rein in Iran’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions.

After the failure to reach an accord in talks less than two weeks ago, the signals were mixed this week on whether the preliminary deal might occur this round or must await a fourth meeting.

Psaki didn't spell out the sticking points for the drafters of the agreement, though she made repeated references to the enrichment issue.

She also reiterated the U.S. government's position that so-called "core sanctions," including those related to Iranian oil exports, are not under consideration as Western nations put together a sanctions relief package for Iran. Psaki said only "reversible sanctions relief" was under consideration.

"To be very clear, what we’re working on right now is a first step. So on the enrichment front, the first step, six-month step, would include significant limits on Iran’s enrichment capabilities and existing stockpiles of uranium in order to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and roll it back in key aspects," Psaki said.


Hannah Allam
McClatchy Interactive