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US, Iran lay ground for nuclear talks extension

Update: July, 16/2014 - 10:59

VIENNA — US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart have laid the groundwork for an extension of a Sunday deadline to strike a historic nuclear deal after intense talks in Vienna.

A Western diplomat went as far as to say that it was now "highly probable" Iran and world powers would agree to such a move, and that the extension would be months not weeks.

"As it's highly improbable that we will finalise in Vienna before the weekend, it is highly probable that there will be a wish to continue to negotiate in the coming months," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.

After a decade of rising tensions, the mooted accord between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany is aimed at easing concerns that Iran might develop nuclear weapons and silencing talk of war.

Kerry said he would return to Washington to discuss with President Barack Obama "the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted."

He told a news conference after two days of talks with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that there had been "tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things," although "very real gaps" persisted between the two sides.

Zarif, in a separate news conference, said that although he still hopes a deal would be possible by Sunday, he believed enough progress has been made to justify a continuation.

"As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing," Zarif said. "This is my recommendation. I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation."

An interim accord struck in November between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany expires on July 20. Extending the deadline has always been a possibility in order to keep the parties talking, but Washington in particular has stressed it will not agree to such a move without key concessions from Iran first. — AFP

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