GENEVA -- Intense negotiations are under way in nuclear talks between world powers and Iran, as top diplomats have begun arriving to Geneva to help reach a tentative deal with the Islamic republic.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said on November 8 that the participants were "working very hard" and "making progress."
Mann spoke as negotiators from Iran and six global powers meeting in Geneva appeared closer to a deal that would partially limit Iran's disputed nuclear program in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions.
On November 7, the White House said the six world powers were ready to ease some sanctions on Iran if Tehran takes clear steps to halt the advance of its nuclear program.
However, no details of any accord have been confirmed.
Mann said there is currently no schedule of events for negotiations on November 8 and it is not yet known whether a plenary session will be held on that daye.
The group of six world powers -- known as the P5+1 -- consists of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China -- plus Germany.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva on November 8, where he was due to join the talks together with his British, French, and German counterparts.
Kerry told journalists upon arrival that there still is no agreement so far and important gaps remain that need to be closed.
"I want to emphasize there are still some very important issues on the table that are unresolved." he said. "It is important for those to be properly, thoroughly addressed. I want to emphasize there is not an agreement at this point in time but the P5 is working hard."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also arrived in the Swiss city on November 8. He struck an optimistic note upon arrival.
"Progress has been made, but as I speak to you now nothing is concluded yet," he said.
Kerry arrived from Jerusalem, where he had met earlier with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said before the meeting that Israel "utterly rejects" a possible deal that would ease sanctions on Iran.
"So, Iran got the deal of the century and the international community got a bad deal," he said. "This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it, 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 do to defend itself and to defend the security of its people."
Asked by RFE/RL's Radio Farda to comment on Netanyahu's statement, Mann said Ashton has a UN mandate to negotiate an appropriate deal with Tehran.
"I have no comment on that," he said. "I would just say that my boss, Catherine Ashton, is mandated by the UN to negotiate in good faith with the Iranians and reach a binding deal that is good for the world and reassures the international community of the purely peaceful intentions of the Iranian nuclear program, and that is what she is aiming to do. We need a diplomatic solution to this problem."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague are also reportedly joining the talks in Geneva.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the six powers and Iran could agree in Geneva on a framework for ending the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.
"There is a chance that a common, unified approach will be agreed, including a road map on finally ending [Iran's nuclear] problem," he said. "The reports we are getting from Geneva give us that hope."
Late on November 8, Russian news agencies reported Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would go to Geneva on Saturday to join the talks.
IAEA Chief To Visit Tehran
In related news, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano says he will travel to Iran on November 11 for talks with Iranian officials about nuclear inspections.
The IAEA posted a brief message about the visit on its website that said Amano was making the trip "with the aim of strengthening dialogue and cooperation." http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/2013/prn201320.html
The site noted that, when Amano is in Iran, "IAEA and Iranian experts" will be meeting in Tehran to discuss technical issues related to inspections.
Amano had already been invited to visit Iran but he said recent progress in talks between Iran and the group of six world powers in Geneva convinced him to make the trip immediately.
IAEA inspectors want to visit several sites in Iran, particularly the Parchin military base where Iran allegedly conducted nuclear tests.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and RFE/RL's Radio Farda