U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his French, German, and British counterparts are meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva today in an effort to bridge the divide between Iran and the West. A deal appears to be in the works in which Iran would back off its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of the crippling economic sanctions imposed by Western nations.
Kerry is making the unscheduled stop after a visit to Israel, which has been pushing for even tougher sanctions against Iran over fears of Iranian nuclear ambitions. The news has infuriated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said "Israel utterly rejects" any plan that does not bring an absolute end to Iranian uranium enrichment, and would not be bound by any agreement reached in Geneva.
The U.S. and its diplomatic partners are describing the meetings as "first steps" toward a framework agreement, but caution that it's hardly a done deal.
"What's on the table, and where there seems to be at least they're approaching agreement is Iran scaling down its nuclear program, but not abandoning it completely, in return for an easing or abandonment of the sanctions," says BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes from Geneva.
It's widely understood that Iran wants to be able to sell its oil freely, particularly to some of the large, emerging economic powers like China, India, and Brazil, who want to buy Iranian oil. There's also speculation that sanctions on Iranian financial transactions are also on the table. But, Foulkes says, even if a deal is reached, change won't come overnight.
"There's been speculation of some kind of six month very intensive inspection of Iran's nuclear program to really ascertain that it is for peaceful purposes only, and, at that point, then, perhaps, the sanctions would be eased," Foulkes says.