Officials: Iran nuclear talks deadline may be extended from November 24 to March

Aim of moving deadline is allegedly to remove sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.

November 20, 2014 17:16
2 minute read.
Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Iranian workers stand in front of the Bushehr nuclear power plant.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

VIENNA - A deadline for resolving a 12-year-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program may be extended from Monday until March because of sharp disagreements between Tehran and Western powers, officials close to the talks said on Thursday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Vienna later for what Washington and its allies had hoped would be the culmination of months of difficult diplomacy between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

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The aim is to remove sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but the talks have long been deadlocked: the timing for lifting sanctions and future scope of Iran's uranium enrichment are key stumbling blocks.

"Important points of difference remain," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told a joint news conference with Kerry, who met him in Paris on his way to Vienna later on Thursday.

The latest round of talks between the six began on Tuesday and are likely to last right up to the self-imposed Nov 24 deadline for a final agreement.

"Some kind of interim agreement at this point is likely, or perhaps at best a framework agreement by Monday that needs to be worked out in the coming weeks and months," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said this week a comprehensive deal would be difficult, but not impossible to achieve by Monday. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was not optimistic but that there may be a way of extending the deadline.

A senior Iranian official had similar expectations.

"We need more time to resolve technical issues and don't forget that the time frame for lifting sanctions is still a huge dispute," the Iranian official said, adding that an extension until March was a possibility. Western officials also suggested March was an option, with a resumption of talks in January.

The officials said, however, that Iran and the six were not actively discussing an extension yet and would push for a deal by the deadline, which has already been extended from July.

Officials close to the negotiations, which began in February, say that Iran wants all key sanctions on oil exports and banking terminated almost immediately, not merely suspended as the United States and European officials have said.

Tehran rejects Western allegations it is amassing the capability to produce atomic weapons and has refused to halt its enrichment program.

It has been under international sanctions for eight years and the US, European Union and U.N. measures have crippled its economy by slashing its oil exports and causing inflation to soar and the value of its currency to plummet.

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