Kerry, Zarif, Ashton start talks on Iran's nuclear programme
VIENNA - Agence France-Presse
US Secretary of State John Kerry walks to his car with Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (R) as he arrives at the International Airport, in Vienna, Austria, on October 15, 2014. AFP PhotoTalks between US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Iranian counterpart and the EU foreign policy chief towards advancing troubled negotiations on Iran's nuclear drive started on Oct. 15, an AFP reporter said.
The discussions in Vienna between Kerry, Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton come six weeks before a November 24 deadline to strike a deal aimed at easing concerns about Iran's atomic programme.
Ahead of the meeting, Kerry said there was still hard work to be done but that a deal remained achievable.
"I don't believe it's out of reach, but we have some tough issues to resolve," Kerry told reporters in Paris on Tuesday after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Kerry refused to be drawn on whether -- as floated by Lavrov, Iran's president and many experts -- Iran and the six powers might push back the target date, as they did earlier this year.
"We need to continue to have some serious discussions, which we will, and we'll see where we are," he said.
"I don't think anything is served by a lot of speculation at this point in time."
"We're not talking about an extension," a senior US State Department official added Wednesday. "There is still time to get this done... if everyone can make the decisions they need."
But Lavrov, whose country together with the US, China, Britain, France and Germany forms the P5+1 group, said Tuesday in Paris that the November deadline was not "sacred".
"We aspire to get a result by that date but I am convinced by the principle that it is not artificially-set deadlines but the essence of the deal, the quality of the deal (that counts)," Lavrov said, according to Interfax.
Zarif too appeared to indicate that another extension might be needed in order to discuss what he called "serious and innovative" -- but unspecified -- "new methods".
"These talks will take time... and it is possible that more time might be needed to discuss these solutions," he told state television late Tuesday after talks with US and EU negotiators including Ashton.
Iran, reeling from sanctions pressure, denies seeking to build the atomic bomb and says it wants to expand its nuclear programme in order to generate electricity and help cancer patients.
But the six powers are pressing Tehran to reduce in scope its activities in order to make any dash to make a weapon all but impossible, offering sanctions relief in return.
Last November, the two sides agreed an interim deal and set a July 20 target to agree a lasting accord, but the deadline was extended to November 24.