'Difficult Talks' Remain Ahead of Deadline for Iran Nuclear Deal: Kerry

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VIENNA — Secretary of State John Kerry warned “serious gaps” remain as world leaders try to hammer out a deal on Iran’s nuclear program ahead of a Monday deadline.

In his first comments Saturday before returning to a closed-door meeting in Vienna, Kerry said cautiously that Tehran and major Western powers were still trying to make headway on slowing Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has repeatedly denied that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and is hoping that concessions from its side — and possibly more regular access to the country’s nuclear facilities — will lead to the lifting of painful international sanctions.

“We’re working hard. We hope we’re making careful progress, but we have big gaps. We still have some serious gaps which we’re working to close,” Kerry said ahead of an afternoon meeting with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

While officials called the negotiations “difficult talks,” Kerry reiterated that it was still too early to reveal details of the weekend meeting with the U.N. Security Council’s so-called P5+1 group (diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, plus Germany).

“The good thing is the p5+1 are working in concert and we’re simply going to not say anything substantive about the discussions while they’re going on,” Kerry said. “A lot of serious work is going on by a lot of people.”

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, who joined the talks on Saturday, called this weekend “the hours of truth.” “I think I can say that we have never been so close to a deal and that the atmosphere of the negotiations is very constructive, but we should be aware that there are still big gaps on certain issues,” he told reporters upon his arrival. “Now the question is whether Iran is aware that this is a great chance to get the deal done,” he added.

While top-level negotiators are not providing details of the “big gaps” or any “red lines” that may kill a deal, Steinmeier said Western nations do have a core question in mind: “If Iran is really ready to renounce every research development, working in the direction of getting nuclear weapons. (That) is the only criteria.”

Both Iran and the West have repeatedly said that they are pushing for an agreement before Monday, but while the negotiations have been called “constructive,” warnings are still being issued from both sides. “Iran must understand that we would like these negotiations to be successful, but we have to make sure that there is no way back to nuclear armament,” Steinmeier said.

While he referred to nuclear weapons, Iran does not currently have any nuclear armaments and maintains that it has no plans to have such a weapons program.

“Whether we will come to a result is at the moment completely open,” Steinmeier added.

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