Kerry: Wide gaps persist in Iran nuke talks

 

With diplomats facing a Sunday deadline, Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that “very real gaps” exist between world powers and Iran over a potential nuclear deal. 

Kerry said he’s returning to Washington from the talks in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday to consult with President Obama and Congress about the negotiations and the possibility of extending them, The Associated Press reports

Most reports from this last round of talks have suggested little progress has been made between the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, and Iran.

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Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, told The New York Times in an interview Monday that Iran could accept an agreement that would freeze its capacity to produce nuclear fuel at current levels. 

The Times reports Zarif’s proposal would essentially extend some concessions from the interim nuclear deal, which has curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” he said, stopping short of saying that Iran would “freeze” its program. He said Iran would still need to produce low-enriched uranium fuel. 

Zarif said Iran would also convert most of its nuclear fuel into an oxide form that wouldn’t be possible to use to produce a nuclear weapon.

One senior Obama administration official declined to react specifically to Zarif’s proposals.

“We have consistently said we wouldn’t negotiate in public, and we’re not going to start doing so now. Some of the things described in this interview they have put forward in negotiations. Some have not come up. And on some, they’ve shown more flexibility behind closed doors,” the official said. 

Some diplomats, however, told Reuters that a major speech Iran’s supreme leader delivered last week has tied Iranian negotiators’ hands from making any concessions. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that Iran should significantly increase its uranium enrichment capacity.

Kerry’s update on the talks comes less than a week after a majority of House lawmakers demanded in a letter to President Obama that they be consulted about any final nuclear agreement.