(Adds detail on timing of talks, nuclear programme, paragraphs
4 and 13-15)
By Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, July 18 Iran and six world powers on
Friday agreed to a four-month extension of negotiations on a
long-term nuclear deal that would gradually end sanctions on
Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, diplomats
close to the talks said.
Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia
and China had set a July 20 deadline to complete a long-term
agreement that would resolve the decade-old dispute over
Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But diplomats said they were unable
to overcome significant differences on major sticking points.
"We have reached an agreement to extend the talks," a senior
Iranian diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Several
Western diplomats echoed his remarks.
The extension agreed to on Friday begins on July 21 and
negotiations on a long-term deal are likely to resume in
September, diplomats said. They added that the talks were set to
conclude by late November.
It has been clear for days that Iran and the six powers
would miss the Sunday deadline to reach an accord due to
disagreements on a number of key issues in the discussions.
Among the issues dividing them are the permissible scope of
Iran's nuclear fuel production capacity and how to address the
country's suspected past atomic bomb research. The negotiations
began in February in Vienna.
The talks are taking place because of a preliminary
agreement reached in Geneva in November 2013 that gave Iran
limited sanctions relief in exchange for halting some nuclear
activities and created time and space for the negotiation of a
comprehensive deal to end the decade-long dispute.
But it remains uncertain whether four more months of
high-stakes talks will yield a final agreement, since the
underlying differences remain significant after six rounds of
meetings this year.
Western nations fear Iran's nuclear programme may be aimed
at developing a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this.
The powers want Iran to significantly scale back its nuclear
enrichment programme to make sure it cannot yield nuclear bombs.
Iran wants sanctions that have severely damaged its
oil-dependent economy to be lifted as soon as possible.
After years of rising tension between Iran and the West and
fears of a new Middle East war, last year's election of a
pragmatist, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's president led to a thaw in
ties that resulted in November's diplomatic breakthrough.
But Iran's new government still insists that the country has
a right to develop a nuclear energy programme that includes the
production of atomic fuel. The West fears that this fuel, if
further processed, could also be used to make bombs.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters
earlier this week that Tehran would be willing to delay
development of an industrial-scale uranium enrichment programme
for up to seven years and to keep the 19,000 centrifuges it has
installed so far for this purpose.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined the talks last
weekend and held several face-to-face meetings with Zarif, but
he said before leaving Vienna on Tuesday it was "crystal clear"
that Iran keeping all of its existing centrifuges was out of the
The United States and its European allies also want Iran to
accept restrictions on its nuclear programme for at least 10
years, which Tehran says is excessive.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; writing by Louis
Charbonneau; Editing by Louise Ireland and Tom Brown)