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.
If the talks produce a deal to freeze Iran's nuclear efforts, negotiators will pursue a more comprehensive agreement that would ensure that Tehran's program is solely for civilian purposes. Iran would get some sanctions relief under such a first-step deal, without any easing of the harshest measures — those crippling its ability to sell oil, its main revenue maker.
Iran has suggested it could curb its highest-known level of enrichment — at 20 percent — in a possible deal that could ease the U.S.-led economic sanctions.
But Iranian leaders have made clear that their country will not consider giving up its ability to make nuclear fuel — the centerpiece of the talks since the same process used to make reactor stock can be used to make weapons-grade material.
Details of sanctions relief being discussed have not been revealed. But a member of the U.S. Congress and legislative aides on Wednesday put the figure at $6 billion to $10 billion, based on what they said were estimates from the U.S. administration.
The aides and the member of Congress demanded anonymity because they weren't authorized to divulge the estimate publicly.