VIENNA—An interim nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers will be extended through Monday, to provide negotiators in Vienna more time for talks on a comprehensive deal, a senior U.S. State Department official said Friday.
«To allow for the additional time to negotiate, we are taking the necessary technical steps for the measures of the Joint Plan of Action to remain in place through July 13,» the official said.
The interim agreement was reached in April and an original June 30th deadline for a final deal has already passed.
Negotiators missed a U.S. congressional deadline Friday morning, but talks have been continuing and the foreign ministers involved agreed to reconvene in Vienna Saturday.
«We are making progress, it’s painfully slow,» British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said before leaving Vienna Friday.
Echoing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s assessment of the talks, Hammond added, «There are still some issues that have to be resolved.»
Lower-level officials from the U.S., Britain and other participants in the talks are still meeting with Iran’s team, Hammond indicated, and said he is confident they will «clear some more of the text.»
Hammond said he and other foreign ministers would «regroup» in Vienna Saturday «to see whether we can get over the remaining hurdles.»
Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign-policy officials earlier Friday in Vienna.
Zarif told reporters afterwards that the talks were making progress. Asked if he was remaining in the Austrian capital for now, he said, «It seems so.»
Calling down to a pack of reporters from a balcony at the hotel that is the headquarters for the talks, Zarif said: «[There is] no deadline. We don’t have one. I want a good agreement.»
However, the deadline he referred to does have an impact on the United States’ role in the talks.
Negotiators failed to meet a formal 6 a.m. deadline (0400 GMT) Friday, meaning the Republican-led U.S. Congress will now have 60 days, rather than 30, to review a deal, extra time U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration worries could derail it.
The sides remain divided over issues that include a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which Western powers want to keep in place; access for inspectors to military sites in Iran, and access to Iran’s nuclear scientists to determine whether Tehran conducted research in the past on how to potentially weaponize its nuclear stockpiles.
As a 14th consecutive day of talks began in Vienna, even jokes meant to dispel tensions reflected the diplomats’ weariness, which has mostly been relieved only by brief rest breaks spent on the balcony of the ornate Palais Coburg hotel.
«We’re pushing,» said Kerry when asked if there would be a deal this weekend. «Off the balcony,» chimed in Federica Mogherini, European Union foreign policy chief.
Kerry smiled and jokingly reprimanded her with a wave of his finger.
“That’s a joke,” Mogherini said, giving a small laugh.
However, as the round of talks entered its second week, there were increasing signs of exasperation.
Late Thursday, Zarif late lashed out at “several countries” he said were shifting their positions and making “excessive demands.”
“Such issues have made the negotiations difficult. We want a dignified agreement and negotiations, and we will continue to negotiate. The deal would be within reach should the other side seek an honorable and balanced accord,” Zarif said, according to Iranian state media.
arlier Thursday, Kerry warned if difficult decisions are not made soon, his negotiators are ready to «end this process.»
«We will not rush and we will not be rushed» into reaching an agreement, Kerry told reporters in Vienna. He indicated that «real progress» is being made toward a comprehensive deal, and that the quality of any deal is the main concern.
White House comments
The White House echoed Kerry’s comments, saying President Barack Obama would bring back from Vienna the U.S. negotiating team if talks do not appear to be constructive.
«The fact that we’ve been very clear about our expectations for a final agreement makes it unlikely that the talks will drag on for many more weeks. But, again, I wouldn’t speculate on the outcome,» spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
On Friday, Congressman Edward Royce, a prominent Republican in the House of Representatives who heads the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized what he has seen from the negotiations to this point.
Although Royce noted there is no agreement yet, he said indications are that Iran will prevail on many of its major demands.
«How is that a deal?» the California congressman asked rhetorically in a television interview.
Western countries accuse Iran of seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, while Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes, such as medical research and generating power.
William Gallo and Brian Allen contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.