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Kerry heading for Iran nuclear talks

Russian foreign minister joining talks

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    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, leaves the hotel, after talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva Switzerland, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Differences on whether Iran has the right to enrich uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons appeared to be a key sticking point Friday between two top negotiators trying to agree on terms that would start curbing Tehran's atomic activities in exchange for sanctions relief. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, have met repeatedly since Wednesday to hammer out language on a nuclear deal acceptable to both Tehran and six world powers trying to limit Iran's nuclear program. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, right, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, arrive for a photo opportunity prior to the start of three days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Salvatore Di Nolfi)

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    Swiss police officers control the area in front of the Intercontinental hotel where closed-door nuclear talks on Iran's nuclear program are taking place in Geneva Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    Michael Mann, Spokesperson of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, briefs the media outside a hotel where closed-door talks on Iran's nuclear program are taking place in Geneva Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    Michael Mann, Spokesperson of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, briefs the media outside a hotel where closed-door talks on Iran's nuclear program are taking place in Geneva Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman leaves the hotel, in Geneva Switzerland, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Differences on whether Iran has the right to enrich uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons appeared to be a key sticking point Friday between two top negotiators trying to agree on terms that would start curbing Tehran's atomic activities in exchange for sanctions relief. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, have met repeatedly since Wednesday to hammer out language on a nuclear deal acceptable to both Tehran and six world powers trying to limit Iran's nuclear program. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, second left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, third right, are pictured during talks over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. The two top envoys have resumed work on trying to fine tune terms that would start curbing Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief on the Islamic republic. (AP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini, pool)

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    Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russia, photographed near the Intercontinental Hotel where closed-door talks on Iran's nuclear program are taking place in Geneva Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, left, sits next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, during a photo opportunity prior to the start of three days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices, in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov.20, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Salvatore Di Nolfi)

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    A general view shows participants before the start of three days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Salvatore Di Nolfi)

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    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, next to members of her delegation attends talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva on Friday Nov. 22, 2013. The nuclear talks being held formally group six world powers with Iran. But the seven nations have convened only once since the current round of talks started Wednesday. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton have met instead to try to find common language on a first-step deal. The two resumed their talks Friday. (AP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini,Pool)

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    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, arrives for talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva on Friday Nov. 22, 2013. The nuclear talks being held formally group six world powers with Iran. But the seven nations have convened only once since the current round of talks started Wednesday. I Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton have met instead to try to find common language on a first-step deal. The two resumed their talks Friday. (AP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini,Pool)

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  • Mideast-Iran-Nuclear-Talks-2

    FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, Iranian students chant slogans as they join hands while forming a human chain around the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in support of Iran's nuclear program, as one of them holds a poster of late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside the city of Isfahan, 410 kilometers, 255 miles south of the capital Tehran, Iran. Seven-nation talks on a deal meant to start a rollback of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief were delayed Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, as senior envoys from both sides wrestled with a draft they hoped would be acceptable to both Tehran and its six world powers negotiating with it. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

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    Michael Mann, Spokesperson of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, briefs the media outside a hotel where closed-door talks on Iran's nuclear program are taking place in Geneva Switzerland, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

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    Wendy Sherman, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs, looks to her right before the start of the three days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Keystone,Salvatore Di Nolfi)

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GENEVA — Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Geneva to join negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program, the State Department announced Friday, raising expectations that a deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program could be in the works.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry would arrive early Saturday, joining Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They will lend weight to negotiations aimed at beginning a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing U.S. and international sanctions.

Negotiators have been working since Wednesday to find language acceptable to Iran and its six negotiating partners — the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

As negotiations moved into the evening, a diplomat in Geneva for the talks said some progress was being made on a key sticking point — Iran’s claim to a right to produce nuclear fuel. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, have met repeatedly since Wednesday trying to resolve that and other differences.

The last round of talks between Iran and the six world powers ended Nov. 10 with no deal even after Kerry, Lavrov, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and a Chinese deputy foreign minister flew in and attempted to bridge differences.

Zarif and Ashton met briefly Friday for talks that Iran’s official IRNA news agency described as “complicated and tough.” It quoted Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in Geneva as saying that Iran’s right to uranium enrichment must be part of any deal.

Iran says it is enriching only for reactor fuel, medical uses and research. But the technology can also produce nuclear warhead material.

Zarif last weekend indicated that Iran is ready to sign a deal that does not expressly state Iran’s right to enrich, raising hopes that a deal could be sealed at the current Geneva round.

On Wednesday, however, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country would never compromise on “red lines.” Since then Tehran has reverted to its original line — that the six powers must recognize this activity as Iran’s right under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty despite strong opposition by Israel and within the U.S. Congress.

A senior Iranian negotiator said that the Iranian claim did not need to be explicitly recognized in any initial deal, despite Khamenei’s comment. He did suggest, however, that language on that point remained contentious, along with other differences.

The diplomat said work was proceeding on a compromise along the lines of what the Iranian negotiator said — avoiding a direct reference to any country’s right to enrich but still giving enough leeway for Iran to accept it.

Both he and the Iranian envoy demanded anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the closed negotiations.

Sanctions relief was also an issue.

The United States and its allies have signaled they are ready to ease some sanctions in return for a first-step deal that starts to put limits on Iran’s nuclear program. But they insist that the most severe penalties — on Tehran’s oil exports and banking sector — will remain until the two sides reach a comprehensive agreement to minimize Iran’s nuclear arms-making capacity.

Iran says it does not want such weapons and has indicated it’s ready to start rolling back its program but wants greater and faster sanctions relief than that being offered.

Several U.S. senators — both Democrat and Republican — have voiced displeasure with the parameters of the potential agreement, arguing that the U.S. and its partners are offering too much for something short of a full freeze on uranium enrichment.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that he would support legislation to expand sanctions against Iran, though he said he also backs the negotiating effort. Reid said the threat of more sanctions was essential to get an acceptable deal.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Republicans’ top member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Thursday proposed a bill outlining a final agreement, including an end to all Iranian enrichment activity, and seeking to restrict President Barack Obama’s capacity to ease sanctions.

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