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No agreement reached over Iran nuclear program as negotiations continue

November 8, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite a day of higher-level negotiations, including involving Secretary of State John Kerry, an interim deal over Iran’s nuclear program still was not reached tonight. All sides are expected to meet again in the morning to try to clear remaining hurdles.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

JEFFREY BROWN: Secretary Kerry and foreign ministers from France, Germany and Britain arrived in Geneva, saying they hope to narrow the gap with Iran.

But the secretary of state notably sought to lower expectations after a flurry of reports yesterday that a short-term deal was imminent.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point in time. We hope to try to narrow those differences, but I don’t think anybody should mistake that there are some important gaps that have to be closed.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, followed suit in striking a cautious note.

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MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Iranian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): We have now entered the very difficult and sensitive phase of editing the text that will be published should the talks reach an agreement. It is possible that the negotiations will take more time. However, given the sensitivity of these discussions, we can see that the ministers are eager to participate, and we have to see what the results will bring.

JEFFREY BROWN: The reported deal would suspend and in some cases reverse Iranian nuclear activity for perhaps six months. In return, the Islamic republic would receive moderate sanctions relief. In particular, Iran wants oil and banking penalties eased.

But Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu bluntly dismissed the potential deal today. He and Kerry had a reportedly tense meeting in Tel Aviv before the secretary flew to Geneva. Shortly after that session, Netanyahu derisively labeled the reports from Geneva as the deal of the century for Iran.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Israeli Prime Minister: It’s a very bad deal. Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge, but the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years. Iran gets everything that it wanted in this stage, and it pays nothing. And this is when Iran is under severe pressure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Aboard Air Force One today, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that any critique is premature, and again he said: “The United States and Israel are in complete agreement about the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Russia and China are also involved in the talks, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Geneva late today.

And this evening, the White House said that President Obama had called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told him the U.S. remains committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.