As Iran’s supreme leader slammed the United States as “Satan”, his country and world powers met Thursday to discuss how to implement a deal aimed at containing Tehran's nuclear drive, less than two weeks before the agreement is due to take effect.
AFP reported that Iranian, EU and U.S. negotiators gathered in Geneva for their highest-level talks since hammering out the groundbreaking November 24 deal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani also discussed the implementation of the accord in a phone conversation earlier in the day, according to the Kremlin.
Negotiators have said they want to implement the deal, which aims to rein in Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief, by January 20.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif voiced optimism ahead of the talks, but some observers warned of possible sticking points that could lead to a delay in rolling out the deal.
Little information has filtered out about the Geneva talks, which were scheduled to continue Friday, but they were expected to focus heavily on the thorny issue of advanced centrifuges.
The European Union, which represents the so-called P5+1 group of world powers - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany - has kept a tight lid on details about when and where the discussions were taking place.
Iran's deputy chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi and Helga Schmid, deputy to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, will "discuss outstanding issues" on implementing the deal, was all Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann would tell AFP.
Top U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman will meet with both Araqchi and Schmid, the State Department said, without confirming reports there would be a three-way encounter.
Mann also refused to say if the three would meet together, stressing that "Schmid is in Geneva to meet Araqchi."
On Wednesday it was reported that the negotiations had run into problems over advanced centrifuge research.
Under the November deal, Iran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear drive for six months in exchange for receiving modest relief from international sanctions and a promise by Western powers not to impose new measures against its hard-hit economy.
Technical experts from both sides have since held several sessions in Geneva aimed at fine-tuning the deal.
Zarif, also Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said on Facebook Wednesday that "the nuclear talks are continuing with seriousness and a strong political will."
A Vienna-based envoy told AFP on Thursday the issue of advanced centrifuges that Iran is conducting research on was "one of the items still to be decided" and "is being debated a lot."
Two weeks ago, Iran's atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Tehran was "testing third and fourth generations of its centrifuges," which were almost five times more effective that the current ones.
The problem, according to the Vienna-based diplomat, was that the November plan "wasn't that specific" on the issue, meaning it is "open to interpretation by both sides".
"It's a major issue but whether it will become a major sticking point, we will only see over the next few days," the diplomat told AFP.
Meanwhile, as the talks were set to resume, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that negotiations with the U.S. about Iran's nuclear program are part of a tactic to stall international pressure and gain time.
"We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan (the U.S.) to deter its evil," said Khamenei in Qom. He further claimed "the nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims."