- Associated Press - Thursday, November 21, 2013

GENEVA (AP) — Talks on a draft deal meant to start a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief were delayed Thursday, with a senior Iranian envoy suggesting that the momentum characterizing much of a previous round had been slowed.

Negotiators from Iran and six world powers parted on Nov. 10 saying that an agreement was within reach, even after added complications posed by a toughened position from France.

But a negotiating round scheduled for Thursday morning was postponed in a favor of a meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the European Union’s top diplomat, Catherine Ashton.

That and comments from Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi indicated that the two sides were pausing to take stock.

“What we are trying now is to rebuild confidence that we lost in the previous round of negotiations,”Araghchi told The Associated Press.

Speaking of an unspecified “misunderstanding or … mismanagement in the previous round,” he said “serious negotiations” had not yet started on a draft text meant to outline the contours of any first-step deal.

While saying agreement was possible, Araghchi spoke of a “difficult job” ahead to bridge differences, which he described as “remarkable” in separate comments to Iranian state TV.

He also said talks have included possible ways to reduce sanctions on Iranian oil sales and banking. The U.S. and its partners have spoken of offering some financial concessions, such as unfreezing Iranian bank accounts from previous oil sales.

But they have insisted the tough sanctions would remain in place to see if Iran abides by a first-stage deal.

Warnings from Iran’s supreme leader that his country’s readiness for compromise has its limits added to the sense of some work ahead. The tough talk reflected the tensions from nearly a decade of negotiations that have begun to make headway only recently.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced support for the talks Wednesday but insisted there are limits to what Tehran will deal away at the negotiating table. He blasted Israel as “the rabid dog of the region” — comments rejected by French President Francois Hollande as “unacceptable.”

French spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told reporters in Paris that such statements complicate the talks, but France still hopes for a deal and its position has not changed. A previous round of talks earlier this month ended without agreement after France said it wanted tough conditions in any preliminary deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin, renewed his demand for a full stop to all Iranian nuclear programs that could be turned from peaceful uses to making weapons.

Israel wants a settlement that is “genuine and real,” he said.

“Israel believes that the international community must unequivocally ensure the fulfillment of the U.N. Security Council’s decisions so that uranium enrichment ends, centrifuges are dismantled, enriched material is taken out of Iran and the reactor in Arak is dismantled,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iran’s plutonium reactor under construction.

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