VIENNA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday Iran and the six world powers had made substantial progress toward a final deal over its nuclear program, but the talks would remain difficult in coming months despite new ideas being presented.
“If we can do it (get a deal) sooner, we want to do it sooner,” Kerry told reporters. “These talks are not going to get easier just because we extend them. They’re tough. They’ve been tough. And they’re going to stay tough.”
He said that the powers could not keep talking with Iran forever without serious progress, but it was not the time to walk away. “In these last days in Vienna we have made real and substantial progress and we have seen new ideas surface.” He said there were still “some significant points of disagreement”.
Kerry said there would be no additional sanctions relief beyond what was already agreed under an interim deal signed exactly one year ago in Geneva. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters earlier that Iran would continue to receive some $700 million per month during the extension period.
Kerry appeared to be anticipating criticism from U.S. lawmakers back in Washington as hawkish Republicans prepare to take over majorities in both houses of Congress. He strongly defended the Obama administration’s decision not to abandon the negotiations even though a final deal had not been reached.
“We would be fools,” he said, raising his voice, “to walk away from a situation where the breakout time (for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon) has already been expanded rather than narrowed and the world is safer because this program is in place.”
Several influential Republican senators announced on Monday in Washington that the extension of nuclear talks with Iran should include new sanctions, something the Obama administration has warned could torpedo the talks.
Kerry said Israel and U.S. allies in the Gulf, which regard Iran’s nuclear program with suspicion, are safer thanks to the year-old interim deal with Iran that will now be extended. He also said the sceptics who predicted the interim agreement would collapse and Iran would break its promises were proven wrong.
“Guess what?” he said. “The interim agreement wasn’t violated. Iran has held up its end of the bargain, and the sanctions regime has remained intact.”
The Islamic Republic rejects Western allegations that it is seeking the capability to produce atomic weapons, saying it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy.
Writing by John Irish and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Parisa Hafezi and; Mark Heinrich