Iran nuclear talks extended seven months after failing to meet deadline
By Louis Charbonneau and Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran and six powers failed on Monday for a second time this year to resolve their 12-year dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and gave themselves seven more months to overcome the deadlock that has prevented an historic deal.
Western officials said they were aiming to secure an agreement on the substance of a final accord by March but that more time would be needed to reach a consensus on the all-important technical details.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is trying to win relief from crippling international economic sanctions by patching up relations with the West, said the gap between the sides had narrowed at 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 TV.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave a more somber assessment, saying “real and substantial progress had been made but adding 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 Vienna.
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 financial and trade sanctions which have badly hurt its economy, including access to some frozen oil revenues abroad.
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 that the target date had been extended to June 30, 2015.
Tehran dismisses Western fears that its nuclear program might have military aims, saying it is entirely peaceful. However, the six powers – the United States, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain – want to curb the uranium enrichment further to lengthen the time Iran would need to build a bomb.