MUSCAT – The United States and Iran have held high-level talks in Oman as the deadline for a nuclear deal loomed closer, but President Barack Obama warned there may be no agreement.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday met Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Gulf sultanate, seeking to resolve key disputes that have left the West's negotiations with the Islamic republic close to deadlock.
An interim accord expires on November 24 but Iran and world powers have for months been unable to hammer out what a comprehensive, long-term accord would look like.
At issue is the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges Iran should be allowed to keep spinning in exchange for sanctions relief and rigorous inspections at its nuclear sites.
The duration of a final settlement between Iran and the P5+1 group – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany – also remains contested.
The West is unconvinced by Tehran's denials that it has never sought a nuclear weapon and wants curbs that would put an atomic bomb forever beyond reach.
Iran, however, insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful, civilian energy production only and wants to vastly enhance its uranium enrichment capabilities for this purpose. The country has vowed to do nothing that would roll back its nuclear activities.
With both Iran and the US now facing pressure at home over the talks, Obama reiterated in a CBS News interview screened on Sunday that the sides were still wide apart.
"Are we going to be able to close this final gap so that (Iran) can re-enter the international community, sanctions can be slowly reduced and we have verifiable, lock-tight assurances that they can't develop a nuclear weapon?" Obama asked.
"There's still a big gap. We may not be able to get there," he said.
Kerry and Zarif had two meetings lasting more than five hours in Muscat with former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator in the talks, also present.
No statements were made when the meeting broke off for the day but the talks will resume on Monday, officials said. — AFP