Iran nuke talks bring Kerry to Geneva

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva, Switzerland Friday on a previously unannounced trip to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

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Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program resumed Thursday in Geneva between representatives of Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. They continue Friday.

Kerry’s unexpected trip, according to multiple reports, suggests a strong chance that a preliminary step toward a comprehensive final deal on Iran’s nuclear program will soon be achieved.

A senior U.S. official, according to NBC News, said earlier on Thursday a deal could be reached Friday. Iran’s Zarif also said they might be able to strike a deal this week.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Jerusalem Post reported Iranian, Israeli, American and Arab diplomats had met in secret in Glion, Switzerland, on Oct. 21-22 to discuss the possibility of a future international conference banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Sources, however, downplayed the rendezvous and deemed it a “procedural” meeting.

President Obama tasked Kerry with navigating nuclear talks with the Iranians in September. Late that month, he and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone, marking the first communication in more than 30 years between the two countries’ governments.

Rouhani had previously said that as president, he would not produce any nuclear weapons — a sharp agenda change from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Kerry has been in the Middle East since Tuesday, after flying to Israel from Poland.

On Wednesday, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem to continue discussing peace talks with the Palestinians, which Kerry helped kick-start over the summer.

Netanyahu has warned the U.S. he’s skeptical of Rouhani’s openness to a deal. When Ahmadinejad was president, he said Israel should be “wiped off the map."

Kerry also traveled to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders, and to Jordan to discuss peace talks. Before heading to Geneva on Friday, Kerry will meet one more time with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. 

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been dismissing calls from the White House to hold off on toughening sanctions against Iran until a deal is struck.

The Senate Banking Committee announced Thursday, according to Reuters, it would consider a bill containing sanctions after the negotiating session ends in Geneva on Friday.