U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday important gaps needed to be bridged in high-stakes talks with Iran on curbing its nuclear program and he began talks with Tehran's foreign minister to try to clinch an interim deal, Reuters reported.
"I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point," Kerry said shortly after arriving in Geneva, tempering expectations of an imminent breakthrough that could reduce the risk of a Middle East war over Iran's nuclear aspirations.
"We hope to try to narrow these differences but I don't think anybody should mistake there are some important gaps that have to be closed," he told reporters.
Iran spelled out a major difference soon afterwards, with a member of its negotiating team, Majid Takt-Ravanchi, telling Mehr news agency that oil and banking sanctions imposed on Tehran should be eased during the first phase of any deal.
The powers have offered Iran access to up to $50 billion in Iranian funds frozen abroad for many years but ruled out any broad dilution of sanctions in the early going of an agreement.
Midway through the second round of negotiations since Iran elected a moderate president who opened doors to a peaceful solution to the nuclear dispute, Kerry joined fellow big power foreign ministers in Geneva to help cement a preliminary accord, with Israel warning they were making an epic mistake.
Diplomats said a breakthrough remained uncertain and would in any case mark only the first step in a long, complex process towards a permanent resolution of international concerns that Iran may be seeking the means to build nuclear bombs.
But they said the arrival of Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French and German foreign ministers Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle signaled that the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany may be closer to an elusive pact with Iran than ever before.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will join the talks on Saturday, diplomats said, signaling the November 7-8 timetable for the talks will be extended into a third day.
Lavrov's deputy was quoted by state-run RIA news agency as saying the sides were loath to leave Geneva "without a positive result (since to do so) would be a serious strategic mistake".
"There are many issues affecting the deep-seated interests of several countries. That is why the level (of the talks) is becoming ministerial. We hope that tomorrow we can achieve a result that will be long-lasting and that the whole world is waiting for," Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's main negotiator, said.