Iran and major powers headed into another late night of talks today on a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, as negotiators struggled to overcome the remaining few obstacles.
The White House said the marathon discussions in Vienna had “made genuine progress” but suggested they would stretch beyond tonight’s deadline.
“There continues to be some sticking points that remain unresolved,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington.
He said the United States and its partners did not want to rush the final stages of the lengthy talks.
“Typically, some of the most difficult issues are the ones that get kicked to the end, and that’s why the president is going to resist any effort to sort of fast-forward through the closing here,” Earnest said.
The P5+1 group — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — wants Iran to scale down its atomic activities in order to make any drive to make the nuclear bomb all but impossible.
A source close to Iranian negotiators in the Austrian capital said that diplomats were “working without respite”.
Asked if the talks would continue for an 18th day on tomorrow, he said: “This depends on our work tonight.”
Over the weekend hopes had been raised that the end might be finally in sight and that ministers from Iran and the six powers might be able to nail down the agreement today.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, joining his counterparts at the Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna where the talks were being held, told reporters there should be “no more delays”.
No deal could be “perfect” but “conditions are already in place for a good agreement,” Wang said through an interpreter, before going into talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other ministers.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he believed there should be no further extension to the talks — but added that he would negotiate as long as needed.
“I always believe there shouldn’t be any extension but we could work as long as necessary to finish this,” Zarif said as he met Wang.
Also present were Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany — Philip Hammond, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The current diplomatic effort began when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013. In November that year an interim deal was agreed but two deadlines in 2014 for a lasting accord were missed.
Then in April, the parties scored a major breakthrough by agreeing the main outlines of an accord, aiming to finalise it by June 30, a deadline since pushed back twice.
The terms of the November 2013 interim deal under which Iran froze certain nuclear activities in return for minor sanctions relief were due to expire tonight, although they have been extended before.