Jean-Luc Chopard, Geneva head of Protocol, right, welcomes US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, at his arrival for closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013.
Denis Balibouse/AP

Obama on Iran’s nukes: A ‘phased agreement’ is possible

Updated

It looks like there’s hope for an Iranian nuke deal, after all.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Friday, where intense nuclear negotiations are already underway between Iran and the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

Kerry is set to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and his visit is being seen as the strongest sign yet that a deal could be on the horizon. Zarif and a senior American official told NBC News on Thursday that Iran may sign off on an agreement as early as Friday, which would be the first real thaw in the U.S. and Iran’s icy relationship over the last 35 years. 

Upon his arrival in Geneva, Kerry told reporters that there’s no deal yet. “I want to emphasize there are some very important issues on the table that are unresolved” but that he hoped “we can narrow some differences.”

When asked about nuclear talks with Iran, President Obama told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on Thursday that he’s open to a “phased agreement,” in which the U.S. rolls back some sanctions commensurate with verification about Tehran’s activities. The U.S., he said would have to verify that the Iranian nuclear program was for peaceful energy purposes.

The U.S., he stressed, would not take military action off the table in the event that Iran does not freeze its nuclear activities. Obama said he would keep a “sanctions architecture in place” so that if Iran failed to follow through, the international community  can “crank that dial back up.” 

“We don’t have to trust” Iran, the president said. “What we have to do is to make sure that there is a good deal in place from the perspective of us verifying what they’re doing. And that they’re actually moving in the right direction.”

The details of the agreement have not been made public, but the U.S. has previously made clear that it wants Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20% purity, allow for more United Nations inspectors in the country, and end the construction of the Arak heavy water reactor, which some authorities belive could be a mechanism for building a bomb.

The possibility of a phased deal with Iran, which could lead to an easing of sanctions, was quickly criticized by Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s prime minister, said Thursday that such a deal is a “grievous historic error” and would amount to the “Deal of the century for Iran.”

Netanyahu added in a statement on his website that “Israel utterly rejects [the deal] and what I am saying is shared by many, many in the region whether or not they express it publicly. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to defend itself, to defend the security of its people.” 

Obama on Iran's nukes: A 'phased agreement' is possible

Updated