VIENNA - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday major differences persist between Iran and six world powers negotiating on Tehran's nuclear programme, remarks echoed by Tehran, with a July 20 deadline for a deal approaching.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China want Iran to reduce its nuclear fuel-making capacity to deny it any means of quickly producing atom bombs. In exchange, international sanctions that have crippled the large OPEC member's oil-dependent economy would gradually be lifted.
Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful energy purposes only and wants the sanctions removed swiftly. But a history of hiding sensitive nuclear work from UN inspectors raised international suspicions and the risk of a new Middle East war if diplomacy fails to yield a long-term settlement. "Obviously we have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress," Kerry said ahead of meetings with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and other EU foreign ministers who flew into the Austrian capital at the weekend to kick-start the faltering talks.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi delivered a similar message. He was quoted by Iran's Arabic language al-Alam television as saying that "disputes over all major and important issues still remain. We have not been able to narrow the gaps on major issues and it is not clear whether we can do it."
Kerry arrived in Vienna in the early hours after clinching a deal in Kabul with Afghanistan's presidential candidates to end the country's election crisis. "It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon and that their programme is peaceful and that's what we're here to try and achieve and I hope we can make some progress," Kerry said in Vienna.
NEITHER PESSIMISTIC NOR OPTIMISTIC
Araqchi said that he was "not pessimistic but also not very optimistic" about prospects for an agreement ahead of the self-imposed deadline. "No proposal has been accepted yet. We have not reached any agreement over the enrichment (programme of Iran) and its capacity."