“So far, so good,” say both Iran and Western countries as talks on the long-standing nuclear stand-off get underway in Geneva.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s spokesman said the early session was “good”. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said “we’re making progress, but it’s tough”.
The two-day talks seek to build on a diplomatic opening from Tehran after the June election of Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate, as president.
The six world powers hope to reach an initial deal to ease concern over Iran’s nuclear programme – which it insists is peaceful but which the West fears is aimed at developing weapons.
Western countries want Iran to suspend its most sensitive uranium enrichment efforts, reduce its stockpile of such material and diminish its capacity to produce it in the future.
In return for any concessions, Iran wants the powers to lift the sanctions that have slashed its oil revenues by 60 percent since 2011 and cut the value of its currency in half.
Both sides say a breakthrough is far from certain.
“Well compared to the previous rounds under the old government, I think there is a different atmosphere certainly so we are cautiously optimistic, I would say,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, after Thursday morning’s session.
“At the end of the day, the first move has to come from the Iranian side, it’s them who are in breach of their international obligations, it’s them who have to take that step to show us that they have the right intentions,” he added.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said he was hopeful of reaching a “final understanding” although differences remained “widespread and deep”.
His side would be talking to various powers separately, he added: first the EU, then the Russians, then the Chinese and finally the Americans.
Absent from the talks, Iran’s foe Israel has warned that a deal at Geneva would be “a mistake of historic proportions”, in the words of its prime minister.
“Israel understands that there are proposals on the table in Geneva today that would ease the pressure on Iran for concessions that are not concessions at all. This proposal would allow Iran to retain the capabilities to make nuclear weapons,” Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech.
Reporting for euronews from Geneva, correspondent Fariba Mavaddat said: “Despite the complexity of the negotiations, the atmosphere of optimism established over the last three weeks surrounding talks between the two sides makes hopes of reaching a concrete deal realistic.”