A round of nuclear talks between Iran, the United States and European Union ended in the Omani capital Sanaa on Monday with “little progress,” a senior Iranian official reportedly said.
“After hours of talks we could make little progress,” the official told Reuters. “Still differences remain and still we have gaps over issues,” Reuters quoted the unnamed official as saying.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif held “tough, direct and serious” talks, the State Department said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington that the United States remains “very focused on making progress” and insisted “there is still time to do so.”
With two weeks until a deadline for an overall agreement, Zarif, Kerry and EU envoy Catherine Ashton met in Oman to tackle the decade-long dispute that has raised the risk of wider conflict in the Middle East.
The discussions aim to put verifiable limits on Iran's uranium enrichment work - and any other potential path to a nuclear weapon - in return for a gradual lifting of sanctions.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in a CBS television interview there was still a big gap between Iran and Western powers and said a deal could be out of reach.
Economic sanctions led by the United States have pushed Iran to the table for a deal on its nuclear program, Obama said.
A final step would involve Iran providing “verifiable, lock- tight assurances that they can't develop a nuclear weapon”, he said. “There's still a big gap. We may not be able to get there.”
Western countries suspect Iran has secretly attempted to acquire the means to build nuclear weapons.
Iran says it wants peaceful nuclear energy only, but has refused to curb enrichment capacity and has been hit by damaging U.S., EU and U.N. Security Council sanctions.
An editorial on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website on Sunday made an indirect reference to a letter to him from Obama and said the U.S. president had written three such missives - in 2009, 2012 and “about a month ago.”
“In fact, the U.S. has always reached out to Iran when faced with an impasse and Obama's latest letter is a direct link to foreign policy dead-ends, especially those involving Iran somehow.”
Obama declined comment on this during the CBS interview.
The toughest outstanding issues are the size of Iran's enrichment program, the length of any final accord and the pace at which sanctions would be phased out, diplomats say.
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