GENEVA: The United States held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief for Iran ahead of nuclear talks Tuesday if Tehran moves swiftly to allay concerns about its nuclear program, although both countries said any deal would be complex and take time.
Six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – will hold talks with Iran on its nuclear program in Geneva Tuesday and Wednesday – the first since the election of a reformist President Hassan Rouhani.
"No one should expect a breakthrough overnight," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters.
Washington is ready to offer Iran rapid relief from economic sanctions if Tehran moves quickly to address concerns that the goal of its nuclear work was to make bombs, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Any potential sanctions relief, the official said, would be "targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table." Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
"I'm sure they will disagree about what is proportionate," the official said. "But we are quite clear about what the menu of options are and what will match what."
In a hint that Washington may be considering easing sanctions, the U.S. delegation at the talks includes one of its leading sanctions experts – Adam Szubin, the director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The European Union's top sanctions official has also joined the bloc's delegation at the talks, which EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is leading.Ten Democratic and Republican U.S. senators said they were open to suspending the implementation of new sanctions but only if Tehran takes significant steps to slow its nuclear program.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, the 10 senators said the U.S. and other countries should consider a "suspension-for-suspension" initial agreement, in which Iran would suspend uranium enrichment and Washington would suspend the implementation of new sanctions.
The letter, which was sent to Obama Friday and released Monday, was written by six Democrats and four Republicans. They said they supported the negotiations but wanted confidence-building actions from Iran before they would support backing away from a new set of even stricter sanctions on Iran now making their way through Congress.
The senators signing the letter included Democrats Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Charles Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, as well as Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of their party's most influential foreign policy voices.
This week's meeting follows the June election of Rouhani, a relative moderate who says he wants to thaw Iran's icy relations with the West to secure the removal of punitive sanctions that have hobbled its oil-based economy.
Rouhani said in New York last month that he wanted a deal with the P5+1 within three to six months. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif played down expectations that an agreement would be reached this week.
"Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward," he said on his Facebook page late Sunday. "I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path toward resolution.
But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level," he said.
The U.S. official said the Obama administration was encouraged that Rouhani, who avoids the strident anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had a mandate to "pursue a more moderate course."
The U.S. official said Washington had three priorities regarding Iranian assurances about its nuclear program: Tehran must take steps on the production of nuclear and related material, ensure transparency of the program and take steps regarding its stockpile of nuclear material.
Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East's only state with atomic weapons, has warned the West not to ease sanctions before Tehran has addressed fears about its nuclear ambitions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday Iran was merely trying to buy time and trick the world into dropping tough sanctions against it without making any significant concessions on its nuclear ambitions.
"Iran is willing to give a little and get a lot, if not everything," he said. "It would be a historic mistake to lift the pressure now, just before the sanctions reach their goal. And particularly now we cannot give in and must keep up the pressure."
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Original headline: United States ready to ease Iran sanctions if Tehran acts
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