Iran sees progress but ‘long road’ still in nuke talks

The Iranian foreign minister said the talks had been ‘serious and useful’

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Talks with world powers on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program have made progress but significant work remains for a final deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday.

“Some progress was made on certain subjects but there is still a long road ahead to reach a final agreement,” Iranian media quoted Zarif as saying after talks in Geneva with US counterpart John Kerry.

The foreign minister said talks had been “serious, useful and constructive with the P5+1 countries, especially with the American side”.

A senior US administration official in Geneva said a new round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany will take place next Monday in Switzerland.

The meeting will be held at the level of political directors, the official said after the Kerry-Zarif discussions on Sunday and Monday.

A senior Iranian official in talks on the country's disputed nuclear program said differences remained on key questions at the ongoing negotiations in Geneva, state media reported earlier Monday.

"The gap still exists, differences exist, and all parties are negotiating with seriousness and determination, but we haven't found solutions to key questions," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said.

He was speaking after three hours of talks on Sunday night between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and their Iranian counterparts Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi.

The U.S. and Iranian officials began their talks on Friday.

Before Kerry arrived in Geneva, Zarif also told Iranian state media that mid-level bilateral talks had produced “good discussions but no agreements.”

“The fundamental gap, in my view, is psychological. Some Western countries, the United States in particular, see sanctions as an asset, a lever to exert pressure on Iran. As long as this thinking persists it will be very hard, difficult to reach a settlement.”

Kerry did not make remarks on his arrival in Geneva, where he was first meeting members of the U.S. delegation before sitting down with Zarif.

Joining the talks for the first time are U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, as well as a close aide and the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereydoon.

Zarif said this reflected a need “for higher level people with all-embracing command over all issues”, while Fereydoon was involved for better “coordination with the president”.

Kerry said on Saturday the presence of Moniz reflected the highly technical nature of the current talks and in no way meant “that something is about to be decided”.

“There is still a distance to travel,” Kerry said in London where he met British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

The negotiations between Iran and “P5+1” powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - have reached a sensitive stage with divisions remaining, mainly over Iranian uranium enrichment and the pace of removing sanctions.

A recent U.N. report said that Iran had refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with the six world powers. Development of advanced centrifuges is feared to lead to material potentially suitable for manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iran says it does not intend to develop atomic bombs.

Kerry said U.S. President Barack Obama was not inclined to extend the talks again. The parties already missed a November 2014 target date.
Obama believed it was “imperative to be able to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time space that we have left,” Kerry said.

Zarif said Rouhani would not accept a small, short-term agreement, nor a broad accord that left room for interpretation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, increasingly critical of U.S. policy, said it was “astonishing” that the talks, which could end by allowing Iran “to develop the nuclear capabilities that threaten our existence”, were proceeding.

Any agreement would be “dangerous for Israel, the region and the entire world,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.

[AFP, Reuters]

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