VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister said on Thursday that progress was made in “very difficult” nuclear talks with top US and EU diplomats this week when possible solutions were discussed, sources who attended his briefing for Iranian media said.
Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke after a meeting on Wednesday with US Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that lasted some six hours in Vienna. A senior US official late on Wednesday also said some progress was made but that much work remained.
“It was very difficult, serious and intensive … but instead of focusing on problems, we discussed solutions as well,” Zarif said, the sources told Reuters. “There was progress in all the fields.”
Zarif said he would next meet Kerry and Ashton in three to four weeks’ time though not in Vienna, Iranian state television reported. Ashton coordinates talks with Iran on behalf of six world powers, including the United States.
“We still need serious discussions over various issues,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s IRIB news web site.
Iran and the powers – the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain – aim to end a decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme by a November 24 target date.
The negotiations are centred on curbing Iran’s atomic activity, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West fears may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability, in exchange for lifting sanctions.
With less than six weeks to go, Western officials say important differences still remain, especially over the future scope of Iran’s production of enriched uranium, which can have civilian as well as military uses.
But Zarif said none of the parties involved believed in extending the self-imposed late November deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement, IRIB said. Another top Iranian negotiator last week raised the possibility of such an extension and Russia has also suggested more time may be needed.
Senior officials from Iran and the six powers met in the Austrian capital on Thursday to discuss the previous day’s trilateral talks.
Western governments want Iran to cut its uranium enrichment capacity so that it would take Tehran a long time to purify enough uranium for an atomic weapon.
Tehran has rejected demands to significantly reduce the number of enrichment centrifuges below the 19,000 it has now installed, of which roughly half are operating.
Iran denies Western allegations that it is seeking nuclear weapons capability, but has refused to halt uranium enrichment, and has been hit with US, EU and UN Security Council sanctions as a result.
The senior US official said gaps in negotiating positions would have to be narrowed in a way that “ensures that all of the pathways for fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down.”