By GEORGE JAHN and JOHN HEILPRIN
GENEVA — A new round of Iran nuclear talks began in fits and starts Wednesday, with the two sides ending a first session just minutes after it began amid warnings from Iran’s supreme leader of “red lines” beyond which his country will not compromise.
Still, both sides indicated a first-step agreement was possible on a deal to roll back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, despite strong opposition from Israel and unease in Congress and among Iranian hard-liners.
President Barack Obama appears determined to reach such an agreement, which could be a major step toward reconciliation between the United States and a former ally that turned adversary after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
But America’s longtime allies Israel and Saudi Arabia fear a deal will fall short of ending the Iranian threat and a resurgent Iran will transform the balance of power in the Middle East.
A senior U.S. official said Wednesday’s brief plenary was only a formality, and bilateral meetings continued through the evening to try to hammer out the first steps of a deal. She demanded anonymity under U.S. government briefing rules.
However, there was also tough talk, reflecting tensions from nearly a decade of negotiations that began to make headway only recently.
While voicing support for the talks, Iran’s supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted there are limits to the concessions Tehran will make. And he blasted Israel as “the rabid dog of the region” — comments rejected by French President Francois Hollande as “unacceptable.”