VIENNA – With talks on Iran's nuclear program stalled four days before a deadline for agreement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry embarked on a crucial round of diplomacy on Friday, meeting first with Iran's foreign minister and then his British and French counterparts.
Expectations are growing that the Monday deadline for a full deal will be missed because of differences on how much Iran needs to reduce the size and scope of key nuclear programs. Both the Iranians and the six world powers negotiating with them must soon decide whether to go beyond Monday or adjourn to a later date. They may also opt to end negotiations, but that is unlikely.
Officials from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are seeking to reduce the potency of Iran's nuclear program and slow its technical ability to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking such arms, but is negotiating in pursuit of relief from international sanctions.
Former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also attended the meeting with Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Talks between Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond were scheduled for the afternoon.
Before arrival, Kerry expressed hope that a deal could be forged by the target date and said negotiators "are not talking about an extension" with Iran despite expectations that differences are too great to be bridged in the next four days. However, he acknowledged that some elements of an agreement might not be completed by the deadline.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who leads the Russian delegation, told the ITAR-Tass news agency that "the talks are ... in (an) extremely tense situation."
Hammond added, in a tweet, "Greater flexibility needed if we are to succeed."