PARIS (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cast doubt on Thursday on the chances of a final nuclear deal between the West and Iran, as delicate talks were set to resume in Geneva.
Mr Fabius, one of the key players in the negotiations with Tehran, told the Wall Street Journal that he was unsure if the Islamic republic would dismantle all its nuclear capabilities to a degree where making a weapon would no longer be possible.
Under a landmark Nov 24 deal struck in Geneva, Iran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear programme for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief and a promise by Western powers not to impose new sanctions.
Mr Fabius said this process, which he called the first phase, had to "be honestly implemented".
"Then my main concern is the second phase. It is unclear if the Iranians will accept to definitively abandon any capacity of getting a weapon or only agree to interrupt the nuclear programme," he told the newspaper.
"What is at stake is to ensure that there is no breakout capacity," Mr Fabius said, referring to Iran's possible ability to relaunch a weapons programme from dormant sites.
During the six-month nuclear freeze, which has not yet begun, Iran and world powers aim to hammer out a long-term comprehensive accord to decisively end the standoff over Iran's contested nuclear programme, after a decade of failed attempts and rising tensions.
Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons but many in the international community suspect otherwise, and neither Israel - widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state - nor Washington have ruled out military action.
The six powers negotiating with Iran are known as the P5+1 and include the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.
Technical talks on the nuclear issue are set to resume in Geneva on Thursday between experts from the two sides. They are due to go on until Friday.