Kerry on Iran talks: ‘We’ve made some progress’

The EU also extended a freeze on sanctions targeting Iran until Monday to allow more time for tense talks in Vienna

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said progress had been made Friday in tough talks with Iran on its nuclear program, praising what he called the “constructive” atmosphere.

“I think we have resolved some of the things that were outstanding and we've made some progress,” he said, speaking to a few reporters as he met with his team of experts in Vienna.

Meetings have been happening all day, Kerry said, adding: “We have a couple of different lines of discussion that are going on right now.”

“The atmosphere is very constructive,” he told the reporters who travelled with him from Washington.

“We still have a couple of very difficult issues, and we’ll be sitting down to discuss those in the very near term - this evening and into tomorrow.”

The talks are now heading into their third weekend in Vienna as global powers and Tehran seek to bridge the final gaps blocking a long-sought deal.

The White House on Friday also said the United States and its negotiating partners “have never been closer” to an agreement with Iran in ongoing nuclear talks.with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing the United States of shifting its demands. He dismissed a warning that the U.S. is ready to quit the negotiations as counterproductive.

Before Kerry’s statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of shifting its demands. He dismissed a warning that the U.S. is ready to quit the negotiations as counterproductive.

Hours after his comments, Zarif met again Kerry for another try at resolving differences standing in the way of a landmark deal that offers Iran sanctions relief in exchange for long-term and verifiable curbs on nuclear programs which Tehran could turn to making weapons.

The tougher rhetoric mirrored the frustrations by the sides as the current round of talks entered its 14th day. After blowing past two extensions, negotiators had hoped to wrap up the talks by Friday, but Zarif’s comments cast doubts that agreement was near.

The sides had hoped to seal a deal before the end of Thursday in Washington in attempts to avoid delays in implementing their promises.

By missing that target, the U.S. and Iran now have to wait for a 60-day congressional review period during which President Barack Obama cannot waive sanctions on Iran. Had they reached a deal by then, the review would have been only 30 days. Iran is unlikely to begin a substantial rollback of its nuclear program until it gets sanctions relief in return.

The talks are formally between Iran and six world powers but have devolved into U.S.-Iranian negotiations over recent months, with diplomats saying the other nations were ready to accept terms agreed to by Tehran and Washington. Zarif’s critical comments were thus seen as mostly directed against Washington.

Still, disagreements also have surfaced recently between the U.S. and Russia. Moscow supports Iranian demands for at least a partial lifting of the conventional arms embargo as part of any deal. That's something Washington opposes - and an issue Zarif appeared to touch on in his comments to Iranian state television.

Beyond “witnessing a change of stances” from the other side, Zarif noted a “different stand” on some issues among the six nations. “This situation has made the work difficult,” he said.

EU extends sanctions freeze

Meanwhile, the EU extended a freeze on sanctions targeting Iran until Monday, the second such move this month to allow more time for tense talks in Vienna on agreeing a nuclear deal.

“To allow more time for the ongoing negotiations to reach a long term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, the (European) Council has prolonged until 13 July 2015 the suspension of EU restrictive measures,” a council statement said.

The EU announced on June 30 -- the deadline for an accord in Vienna -- that it would prolong the freeze for a week to July 7 as the hugely difficult talks make only slow progress.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Friday that progress was “painfully slow ... there are still some issues that have to be resolved.”

Hammond said he hoped that over the next 12 hours, experts “will clear some more of the text and then we can re-group tomorrow to see if we can get over the last hurdles.”

Putin on Iran nuclear talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that he believed that global powers and Iran will “soon” reach a compromise in talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Compromise should be found,” Putin told reporters in the Urals city of Ufa.

“In my opinion, it will be found soon,” he said after hosting a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that saw him meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Thursday.

Putin spoke as talks toward a nuclear deal dragged into a 14th day on Friday as Iran accused the West of backtracking and Washington said it was prepared to walk away.

But Putin said he was hopeful that Iran and the P5+1 group - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- would soon agree on guarantees for a successful conclusion.

“Not only Iran and talks participants but all of the countries in the region including Arab countries and Israel are interested in this,” Putin said.

“We proceed from the fact that all sanctions against Iran should be lifted,” he said, stressing that all sanctions should be removed “as soon as possible.”

“We believe this is not the way to solve international problems,” he said.