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(Bloomberg) -- The two top diplomats from the U.S. and Iran continued their quest for a nuclear accord, convening their first meeting of 2015 in Geneva.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in the Swiss city ahead of broader talks involving other world powers on Jan. 18. Diplomats have until March 1 to create a framework and July 1 to agree on technical details to end a dispute that’s raised the prospect of military conflict with Islamic Republic.
Today’s talks “will show the readiness of the two parties to move forward to speed up the process,” Zarif told reporters before meeting Kerry. “All issues are hard until we resolve them.”
Iran’s capacity to make nuclear materials that can be used both to fuel reactors and make bombs, along with the pace at which Western nations remove sanctions, have been the top issues dividing diplomats. The U.S. and other nations involved in the talks -- China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. -- missed their November deadline to resolve the 12-year-old dispute.
“This is an important meeting, as it will determine whether a political accord is possible before the March 1 deadline,” said Ali Vaez, an Istanbul-based International Crisis Group analyst who is traveling to Geneva this week.
Politicians in Iran, with the world’s No. 4 oil reserves, have been publicly debating how far the nation can be pushed to compromise. President Hassan Rouhani this month warned the economy can’t grow “in isolation.” The country’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, dismissed sacrificing the country’s ‘‘honor’’ for sanctions relief.
Pressure is mounting against a temporary accord still in force between Iran and world powers. That agreement, won in November 2013, prevented Iran from engaging in its most- sensitive atomic activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
U.S. Republicans, who assumed control of Congress this month, are skeptical of President Barack Obama’s diplomacy with Iran. Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, this week urged Republicans to hold off on introducing new sanctions, a move that Iran says could undermine talks.
“The big problem is sanctions,” said Peter Jenkins, a former U.K. diplomat who negotiated with Iran’s Rouhani before he became president. “It seems the administration is prepared to put up a very good fight to avoid there being additional sanctions at this stage.”
--With assistance from Ladane Nasseri in Dubai.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at firstname.lastname@example.org; Nicole Gaouette in Washington at email@example.com To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org Leon Mangasarian, Mark Williams