Iran's president to West: Don't waste 'unique opportunity'
GENEVA, Switzerland (CNN) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged Western nations to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program which, he says, is "solely for peaceful purposes," state news reported Saturday.
Rouhani spoke at a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida while diplomats from Iran and six world powers huddled in close-door meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, over Tehran's controversial nuclear program, according to a report from the official Islamic Republic News Agency. He also tweeted messages of peace on Saturday.
Resolving nuclear issues will "help restore stability and tranquility to the entire region," said Rouhani, who came to power in August and has earned a reputation as a more moderate and reasonable leader than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The negotiating parties should bear in their mind that this opportunity was created following recent presidential election in Iran as the Iranian peopled called for establishing a constructive interaction with the world," Rouhani said, according to IRNA.
The president said Iran is trying to make clear that tough sanctions now imposed over its nuclear activities aren't helpful.
"We want the world to know that our nuclear activities are solely for peaceful purposes, & that we're ready to address any rational concerns," he said in a tweet.
He also said on Twitter that "the West should not miss this unique opportunity. Our nation is participating in the Geneva negotiations with strong will & determination."
Rouhani tweeted that "one of the slogans the Iranian nation has embraced is that of 'constructive interaction with the world.'"
Hague touts 'very good progress'
Foreign Secretary William Hague, Britain's top diplomat, says talks in Europe over Iran's controversial nuclear program "have made very good progress," even though crucial issues remain unresolved.
"We have to give a lot of time and attention to those issues," Hague said as he headed to meetings in Geneva. "And there is no fixed time for us to reach a conclusion.
"The Iranian nuclear program is very extensive, it has many different aspects, and therefore any deal the world can have confidence in has to be detailed; it has to be exhaustive," Hague said.
World powers and Iran have been at loggerheads over Tehran's nuclear aspirations. They are working toward a breakthrough deal that could slow Iran's suspected progress toward a nuclear bomb while easing some punishing economic sanctions over its nuclear program.
It is widely believed that Iran harbors aspirations to produce nuclear weapons. Repeated findings by U.N. weapons inspectors indicate that the country appeared to be conducting nuclear weapons research.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. Even though Iran has denied working toward nuclear weapons, it has said it will not submit to any plan that would totally eliminate its nuclear program.
For years, international leaders have been fearful of the instability a nuclear-armed Iran could bring to the Middle East.
Those fears, for example, include the possibility of a pre-emptive Israeli strike that could spark a broader conflict. In the past, Iran has threatened Israel with military attack.
Iran has been under crippling U.N. sanctions related to its nuclear program since 2006, and those sanctions have hobbled the nation's economy. The United States first sanctioned Iran over its nuclear program in 2000.
Sudden progress in recent meetings comes after years of stalemate between Western nations and Iran over its nuclear program. It also follows a slight thaw in relations between Iran and the West under the newly elected PRouhani.
The latest talks continued late into the night Saturday, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joining top representatives of the so-called P5+1 -- which consists of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain plus Germany. Others there include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Will they reach a deal and, if so, when? Both are good questions without solid answers, despite the seeming movement toward an agreement.
Hague said that arriving at a deal will be a painstaking process.
"It has to provide for the necessary transparency and a different approach in Iran in the future from the past. And therefore, it's not surprising that they're detailed negotiations and that they may need to go on for some time."
Israel: 'Bad deal'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not involved in the talks, warned that the proposed agreement is "the deal of a century for Iran" but a "very dangerous and bad deal for peace."
"It's a very bad deal," he said. "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 at this stage and pays nothing."
A senior Israeli government official says Israel backs a diplomatic solution that would dismantle Iran's military nuclear program, "dismantling all the centrifuges, the removal of the enriched uranium and the closure of the heavy water reactor."
If Iran wants nuclear power "for civilian purposes, as it claims, it has no need for centrifuges and heavy water. These are only required to produce nuclear weapons. Like 17 other countries in the world (e.g. Canada and Indonesia), she can do this without a centrifuge and without a heavy water reactor," the Israeli official said.
A heavy water reactor at Arak, which weapons experts warn could be used to process weapons-grade plutonium, is under construction and could be activated early next year. Once the reactor is activated, it could be dangerous to incapacitate.
Responding to Netanyahu's remarks, Hague asked for trust and understanding.
"We haven't done the deal yet. We haven't made this deal yet. So I think everybody will have to comment on it if and when we reach a successful conclusion, and make their judgment about it then. So I'd ask everyone to be patient and to wait for us to arrive at that conclusion if we can."
Hague stressed that any agreement would "require some flexibility on all sides." He is cautiously optimistic, citing the mood among diplomats.
"The atmosphere of these negotiations, as others have told you before, is completely different from the atmosphere of a few months ago. Clearly, dealing with these ministers from Iran is a different experience from the recent past. So a lot of progress has been made, but it's too early to say that we will reach a successful conclusion today," Hague said.
U.S. officials outline possible deal
Two senior U.S. administration officials said that, under the potential deal, Iran would agree:
• to stop enriching nuclear fuel to 20% purity.
• to render unusable most of its existing stockpile of such fuel.
• not to use advanced IR-2 centrifuges, which can enrich nuclear fuel five times faster than older centrifuges.
• not to activate a plutonium reactor at Arak.
In turn, the P5+1 would agree:
• to unfreeze some Iranian assets held in banks overseas.
• to consider easing sanctions banning trade in gold, precious metals and petrochemicals.
Other sweeteners were also under consideration, they said.
One of the officials said the deal is designed to "stop Iran's progress by stopping the shortening of time by which they could build a nuclear weapon" while providing temporary, reversible sanctions relief to Iran.
That official cautioned that the deal is not done but said it could happen if the Iranians agree to the P5+1's demands.
CNN's Karl Penhaul reported from Geneva. CNN's Elise Labott reported from Washington. CNN's Yousuf Basil, Andrew Carey, Jo Shelley, Mike Schwartz and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.