ABU DHABI/PARIS - US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he hoped an agreement to end a dispute over Iran's nuclear programme would be completed within months, although Washington was not engaged in a race to seal a deal.
Iran and six world powers came close to a preliminary agreement at the weekend during talks in Geneva and decided to resume negotiations on November 20 in their attempt to defuse a decade-old standoff and allay fears of a drift towards a wider Middle East war.
"This is not a race to complete just any agreement," Kerry told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. However, he added: "Through diplomacy we have an absolute responsibility to pursue an agreement."
While saying that a deal with Iran was expected within months, Kerry tried to reassure Washington's Arab allies and Israel that his country would not abandon them.
Thumping the podium, Kerry said President Barack Obama had said "that he will continue to defend his friends and allies in this region, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, others, he will defend them against any external attack.
"That is the promise of the United States and as I stand here as Secretary of State, as long as I'm Secretary of State, that is also our policy, my policy, representing the President of the United States in executing it."
The fact that a deal might be within reach after a decade of increasing confrontation between Iran and Western powers shows the shift in the tone of Tehran's foreign policy since President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June.
Rouhani began diplomatic moves towards a nuclear deal in order to ease sanctions that have throttled Iran's vital oil industry and cut it off from the international banking system.