Kerry says no nuke deal yet with Iran, Israel PM criticizing plan to loosen sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013.  ((AP))

Israel remains defiant and outraged over talks between the international community and Iran over its nuclear program – talks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the ‘deal of the century’ for Tehran.

The U.S. has confirmed that some sanctions relief was being offered in return for “concrete, verifiable measures” on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. However, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that no deal with Iran had been reached.

“I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point,” Kerry said.

Kerry’s comments echo those of his counterparts in France, Germany and Britain – all of whom arrived in Geneva and said obstacles still remain in the way of any first-step agreements offering sanctions reduction for nuclear concessions.

But Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator signaled progress at talks with six world powers Thursday.

Sources say the deal would cap Iran’s atomic programs in exchange of easing sanctions.  

Still, Israel isn’t taking any chances and has come out strongly against even the possibility of an agreement.

“I understand that the Iranians are walking around very satisfied in Geneva - as well they should be, because they got everything and paid nothing,” Netanyahu said. "So Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal, this is a very bad deal. Israel utterly rejects it."

The Israeli embassy indicated to Friday it may put out a statement later in the day depending on the developments out of Geneva.  

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters called the possible deal “an idiotic one” and argues that economic sanctions against Iran have been working and easing up on them would reverse any gains made.

“The administration promises you a Ferrari and they deliver you a bicycle with flat tires,” Peters said on Fox News. “It’s a really, really bad deal.”

A senior State Department official traveling with Kerry in Amman, Jordan, said the secretary went to Geneva "to help narrow differences in negotiations."

Even if an agreement is reached, it would only be the start of a long process to reduce Iran's potential nuclear threat, with no guarantee of ultimate success.

The talks are primarily focused on the size and output of Iran's enrichment program, which can create both reactor fuel and weapons-grade material suitable for a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it is pursuing only nuclear energy, medical treatments and research, but the United States and its allies fear that Iran could turn this material into the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

In Geneva, Kerry suggested it was too early to speak of any deal. He told reporters on arrival that `'important gaps ... still remain."

He offered no details. But in earlier comments to Israeli television he suggested Washington was looking for an Iranian commitment to stop any expansion of nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons, as a first step.

"We are asking them to step up and provide a complete freeze over where they are today," Kerry said Thursday.

Six powers -- the negotiators also include Russia and China -- are considering a gradual rollback of sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. In exchange they demand initial curbs on Iran's nuclear program, including a cap on enrichment to a level that can be turned quickly to weapons use.

The six have discussed ending a freeze on up to $50 billion in overseas accounts and lifting restrictions on petrochemicals, gold and other precious metals.  But their proposal would maintain core sanctions on Iran's oil exports and financial sector, as an incentive for Iran to work toward a comprehensive and permanent nuclear accord.

Tehran could be pressing for more significant relief from the sanctions as part of any first-step deal.

The decision by Kerry and his European counterparts to fly to Geneva comes after signs that the global powers and Iran were close to a deal.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did not plan to attend. There was no word from Beijing on any plans by the Chinese foreign minister to join his colleagues.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the first to arrive, spoke of progress, but told reporters "nothing is hard and fast yet."

"I've come to Geneva to take part in the negotiations because the talks are difficult but important for regional and international security," he said. "We are working to reach an accord which completes the first step to respond to Iran's nuclear program."

Israel has been watching the talks warily from the sidelines. It has frequently dangled the prospect of military action against Iran should negotiations fail to reach the deal it seeks -- a total shutdown of uranium enrichment and other nuclear programs Tehran says are peaceful but which could technically be turned toward weapons.

Any agreement would be a breakthrough after nearly a decade of mostly inconclusive talks, but would only be the start of a long process to reduce Iran's potential nuclear threat, with no guarantee of ultimate success.

Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, told Iranian state TV on Thursday that the six "clearly said that they accept the proposed framework by Iran."