Negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program will be extended for seven more months after Iran and six powers failed on Monday for the second time this year to resolve their 12-year standoff.
Western officials said they were aiming to secure an agreement on the substance of a final accord by March but more time would be needed to reach a consensus on the all-important technical details, Reuters reported.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the gap between the sides had narrowed in the latest round of talks in Vienna.
“It is true that we could not reach an agreement but we can still say that big steps have been taken,” he told state television.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said “real and substantial progress” had been made, but added that “some significant points of disagreement” remained.
“These talks are not going to get easier just because we extend them. They’re tough. They’ve been tough. And they’re going to stay tough,” he told reporters in the Austrian capital.
It is feared that a weak deal would enable Tehran to produce a nuclear weapon, something that arch-foe Israel has said it would never allow. Iran insists that its nuclear program is only meant for peaceful energy.
Under an interim deal reached by the six powers and Iran a year ago in Geneva, Tehran halted higher-level uranium enrichment in exchange for a limited easing of the trade and financial sanctions which have badly damaged its economy, including access to some frozen oil revenues abroad, the report said.
The six powers — the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain — want to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment further to lengthen the time it would need to build a bomb.
Monday marked the second time a self-imposed deadline for a final settlement has passed without any deal. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters the target date has been extended to June 30, 2015.
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