Iran and six world powers enter a crucial third day of talks on Friday in Geneva, where they will try to close gaps on an interim deal that would curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Diplomats from both sides reported progress following Thursday's meeting but also said that substantial disagreements remain. A key sticking point appears to be to what extent Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium. Another is how much the sanctions will be relaxed.
Under discussion is a first-phase agreement meant to build trust while the two sides work out a more comprehensive deal that would ease Western concerns about Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons.
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Thursday that his country will not agree to suspend uranium enrichment entirely. The enrichment process creates material that can be used in bombs, but also has uses in civil nuclear power generation.
Tehran denies it wants to build a nuclear weapon. It has offered to suspend parts of its nuclear program and agreed to tighter inspections if the West relaxes sanctions that have devastated its economy.
So far, the U.S. has said it is prepared to offer what it calls limited and reversible sanctions relief, including unfreezing billions of dollars in Iranian funds overseas. Iran has said it would also like restrictions eased on its oil exports and banking sector.
U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, are threatening to increase the sanctions. U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said Thursday he is committed to moving forward with a bill to impose new measures on Iran in December, if negotiations are not successful.
Reid said the bill would "broaden the scope of current petroleum sanctions, place limitations on trade with strategic sectors of the Iranian economy that support its nuclear ambitions, as well as pursue those who divert goods to Iran."
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been asking key Congressional leaders to hold off on any new sanctions against Tehran while the Geneva talks continue.
This is the third round of negotiations between Iran and the group known as the P5+1, which consists of United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.
The latest talks began Wednesday, building on a prior round of negotiations that ended two weeks ago. Analysts say those talks failed in large part because of objections by France.
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