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Kerry and Foreign Ministers Head to Geneva

November 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program seemed to gain momentum and by the end of the day, foreign ministers including Secretary of State John Kerry had arrived or were on their way to join the talks. Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss a "roller-coaster" day of negotiations in Geneva.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Talks over Iran’s nuclear program appeared to be gaining momentum, as negotiators met for a third day today.

Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, is in Geneva covering the story for us. I spoke to her a short time ago.

Margaret Warner, hello again.

So, tell us what happened today.

MARGARET WARNER: Judy, it has been a total roller-coaster day.

I mean, it began with clearly a change in atmosphere from last night. It ended with now all the foreign ministers are either here or are coming to Geneva.

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The day began with a meeting between the Iranian foreign minister, Zarif, and Catherine Ashton, who is the E.U. high rep and the sort of U.N. co-chairman for these talks. And it only lasted — unlike yesterday, where it went for hours, it only lasted maybe less than 90 minutes, and foreign minister — and then they left and consultations continued among the two groups.

Foreign Minister Zarif on TV explained it this way. He said there were issues that were raised yesterday, he said, that we didn’t agree on. And he said, and the delegations consulted their capitals and in some cases had results.

In other words, it seems to me that, on some of the issues, the six, the U.S., the Chinese, the French, the Russians, the Germans, and the British, did move Tehran’s way enough to satisfy Tehran. However, the rest of the day was just a complete to-ing and fro-ing. And 200 of us reporters were camped out in the intercontinental lobby, at one point forced to order wine to keep a seat in the wine bar.

That happened about 5:00 p.m., frantically trying to glean anything. The only people talking were the Iranians. The Russian foreign minister flew in. He met with Zarif. But, finally, after much prodding, the State Department said finally after 11:00 p.m. our time that Secretary Kerry would come.

And now — and then it’s just been announced that all the foreign ministers are. When asked — Lavrov came on his own. But when asked whether Catherine Ashton had invited Kerry or whether he was also just arriving on his own, a Western source said to me just minutes ago that, in fact, she had talked to Kerry, that it was decided that if there is a deal she wants all the ministers here, and, therefore, it would be good if he came.

But this person went on to say, this is not to mean that a deal is done. There is a lot of intensive work that’s still going on, and I’m told it is going on, the negotiations are going to continue into the night tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Margaret, what — what do we know? What do you know about what they have agreed on and what are the sticking points still?

MARGARET WARNER:  Well, Judy, the sticking points kind of remain the same, but according to even Iranian sources — and they’re the only ones who denied before that this point was resolved — the whole squabble over the right to enrich, Iran’s insistence that this deal recognize Iran has a right to enrich, has been resolved and finessed.

And that is along the lines that I think you and I talked about one evening and Gwen and I talked about last night, which is, the U.S. position is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty doesn’t even mention a right to enrich, it doesn’t deny a right to enrich. It kicks in to impose certain verification and monitoring standards, which they’re always — the U.N. accuses Iran of violating.

And so there’s a way to not grant Iran a right to enrich, but simply word it in such a way that either side can take what they want from it. And Foreign Minister Zarif did an interview again this morning in which he indicated flexibility on those terms. He said, well, it’s an unalienable right, so we don’t need anyone to recognize it. We just want them to respect it.

What we don’t know yet, Judy, is, the French had put something — had jammed up the works. That was already the deal between Iran — between Kerry and Zarif, and what we don’t know is what exactly they have tried to do and how that has been finessed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bring us a sense of what happens now that Kerry, Secretary Kerry, and these other foreign ministers are going to be there over the next day or two.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the sense of urgency clearly remains.

It’s not known — I mean, nobody knows whether this deal, if it’s going to be done, can be done by tomorrow, or can be done by Sunday, because certain sticking points remain, not only the fate — what kind of construction can continue, for instance, on this plutonium reactor, which, as we have had discussed, is pretty much impervious to being bombed one it’s finished because it would spread deadly radiation.

The other issue, I’m told by the Iranians, is that Zarif up the sort of price that Iran wanted in the way of sanctions relief. And so the question is, what could President Obama and/or the Europeans give in the way of some limited sanctions relief that wouldn’t unravel the entire system of what really is strangling Iran’s economy, which are restrictions on their oil exports and their use of the global financial system?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Margaret, sounds like you’re reporting this right into the weekend. Thank you.