By Pamela Dockins, VOA
MUSCAT, OMAN-Senior U.S. State Department officials said talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program have been "tough, direct and serious." But they declined to say if progress was made during trilateral negotiations that also included the European Union. The officials commented to reporters after Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and EU negotiator Catherine Ashton wrapped up two days of negotiations in Oman late Monday.
Kerry-Zarif negotiations before the deadline
(cartoon by Salman Taheri, Shahrvand daily)
With a November 24 agreement deadline on the horizon, negotiators in Oman have made a last-minute push to resolve differences.
Ahead of the talks, Secretary of State John Kerry ruled out linking negotiations on Iran's nuclear status to other issues affecting the region.
"The nuclear negotiations are on their own, they are standing separate from anything else and no discussion has ever taken place about linking one thing to another," Kerry said.
A major sticking point of the talks has been balancing Iran's insistence that it has a right to enrich uranium with Western concerns that Iran wants to make nuclear weapons.
Two senior State Department officials said they were not going to characterize the state of the talks.
One added that there is time between now and the November 24 deadline to resolve issues regarding technical work and political decisions and reach an agreement.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is facing internal pressure to reach a nuclear deal, said non-proliferation expert Robert Einhorn.
"He was elected on a platform of strengthening the economy and I think he understands that to strengthen the Iranian economy, he needs to get sanctions lifted and to get those sanctions lifted, he needs a nuclear deal," Einhorn said.
But the Iranian president is also facing pressure from the other side, pointed out Middle East analyst Melissa Dalton.
"I think it is quite certain that the Supreme Leader has the ultimate say and he publicly has been very strong on Iran having a right for civilian nuclear use," she said.
After Zarif, Kerry and Ashton wrapped up their negotiations, the talks continued at the political directors' level in Oman.
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