Kerry meets with Iran’s foreign minister on nuclear talks

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif late Friday on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum to try to advance efforts to secure a final nuclear deal ahead of a new July 1 deadline.

It was the third meeting in just over a week between the two diplomats seeking a deal intended to remove Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting crippling international sanctions. Kerry and Zarif met Jan. 14 in Geneva for nearly seven hours and again in Paris two days later.

The Kerry-Zarif meetings come as representatives of Iran and the so-called P5 plus 1 countries (the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany) are meeting to try to narrow differences. While Kerry and Zarif were in Davos, Wendy Sherman, the U.S. undersecretary of state, and her nine-member team were meeting in Zurich with an Iranian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi. Senior European Union officials were expected to join the Zurich talks, which are scheduled to end Saturday.

Kerry declined to comment on his meeting with Zarif. Asked if any progress had been made in his one-hour meeting with Kerry, Zarif was noncommittal. “Well, we’re trying,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Fars news agency reported that Zarif also held a phone conversation with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, on the nuclear negotiations. The official IRNA news agency reported that Kerry and Zarif also discussed regional developments, including Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told McClatchy that “we hope the difficult parts will be sorted out,” but he added, “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

A new round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran are slated to be held in February in Geneva.

Under a Nov. 23, 2013, deal reached in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran, Tehran agreed to halt some of its enrichment activities and freeze work in some controversial facilities in exchange for the easing of sanctions. But the negotiators have since missed two deadlines to reach a permanent deal.