U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the U.S. and its allies had agreed on the tenets of a deal on Iran's nuclear program, but the Iranians said they were unable to accept the proposal.
But the Islamic Republic did agree to offer more information and expanded access to U.N. nuclear inspectors — including more visits to a planned reactor and uranium site.
The flurry of announcements and comments showed both the complexities and urgency in trying to move ahead on an accord between Iran and world powers after overtime talks in Geneva failed to produce a deal that could curb Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for a rollback in some U.S.-led economic sanctions.
Iranian officials promoted the pact reached with the U.N. nuclear chief Yukiya Amano as a "roadmap" for greater cooperation and transparency, which could move the talks ahead. Under the terms of the deal struck Monday, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would gain access to a key uranium mine and the site of a planned heavy water reactor, which uses a different type of coolant than regular water and produces a greater amount of plutonium byproduct than conventional reactors.
But the plans do not mention some of the sites most sought by U.N. teams to probe suspicions of nuclear-related work, notably the Parchin military facility outside Tehran.
Negotiations between the U.S., Iran, the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Great Britain, France, Russia, and China), and Germany ended Saturday without a wider deal being struck, though negotiations are scheduled to resume Nov. 20.
"It's an important step forward, but by no means the end of the process," Amano told The Associated Press in Tehran. "There is still much work to be done."
Tehran has been eager to reach an agreement to ease international sanctions that have halted most oil exports and crippled the county's economy.
Western leaders, meanwhile, were keen to display a unified front after suggestions that France had broken ranks in Geneva and demanded more concessions from Iran on enrichment levels and an under-construction heavy water reactor that produced a greater amount of plutonium byproduct, which could be used in eventual weapons production. Kerry said it was Iran that put the brakes on reaching a first-phase agreement, but gave no details on the Iranian concerns and suggested it was only a matter of time before a formula is found.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has acknowledged that an overall deal is likely between Iran and world powers, which would undercut Israeli threats to launch military action against Iranian nuclear sites. Yet he hailed the delay as a chance to "achieve a much better deal."
For Netanyahu and his backers, however, hopes have all but evaporated that Iran can be forced by negotiators to completely end its ability to make nuclear fuel. It's now unclear what type of deal would satisfy Israel, which sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence.
Kerry said the U.S. has "been meeting constantly" with the Israelis to understand the progress Iran has made in its nuclear program. "We are confident that what we are doing can actually protect Israel more effectively and provide greater security," he said.
Kerry said there is no "end game" in motion and the Geneva talks were a first step in longer process of possible give and take.
The reported agreement would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to the Arak heavy water site and Gachin uranium mine.
But a key stumbling block has been Iran's insistence that the international community recognize its "right" to enrich uranium as a signer of a U.N. treaty governing the spread of nuclear technology -- also frequently pointing out that Israel has not signed the accord. Kerry's comments challenge the Iranian view, but do not appear to significantly alter the currently Western effort that seeks to curb Iran's ability to make its highest-enrich uranium but possibly leaving intact the country's production of lower-level nuclear fuel.
Iran's highest enrichment level, at 20 percent, is still below the more than 90 percent needed for weapons-grade material, but experts say the process could be done at a rapid pace. Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes and that it has no plans to produce a nuclear weapon.
Reuters quoted Amano as saying in a news conference broadcast on state television in Iran, "The practical measures [in the agreement] will be implemented in the next three months, starting from today.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report.