U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, at left, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, at right, meets at a hotel in Vienna, June 27, 2015.
(photo by Mostafa Ghotbi, Islamic Republic News Agency)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said "we're hopeful" days ahead of a deadline for a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program.
"I think it’s fair to say that we’re hopeful. We have a lot of hard work to do. We have some very tough issues, and I think we all look forward to getting down to the final effort here to see whether or not a deal is possible," Kerry said Saturday in Vienna as he met with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"I think that everybody would like to see an agreement, but we have to work through some difficult issues," Kerry continued.
Zarif agreed, saying, "I agree, maybe not on the issues, but on the fact that we need to work really hard in order to be able to make progress and move forward. We’re determined to do everything we can in order to be able to make this important milestone, but that depends on a lot of things and we’re going to work on them."
Earlier Saturday, Zarif told state media he believed an agreement is possible - if the other side is reasonable.
"If the other side ... takes positive steps and does not make excessive demands, we will certainly reach a deal that benefits everyone," he commented shortly before the meeting with Kerry.
The two were to meet again later Saturday.
A top Western diplomat said major differences remain on key issues as Iran and world powers try to negotiate a deal by the self-imposed June 30 deadline, which many officials expect to slip.
The diplomat said the most difficult issues must be resolved in the coming days, including U.N. inspections of Iran's sites, transparency, sanctions and the possible military dimensions of Iran's atomic program.
The diplomat spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity in Vienna, where talks among officials from Iran and the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are entering their final round.
Kerry and Zarif will participate in the closed-door talks, and will be joined in the coming days by officials from the countries that make up the so-called P5+1; the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.
On Thursday, a senior U.S. official said negotiators are expected to be "close" to an agreement on June 30, if they "can get there at all."
The official said negotiators remained “committed” to the Tuesday deadline but may "miss it by a short bit" in order to ensure a proper deal is reached.
“If it takes us a little bit past June 30 to have the right content ... what matters here is the substance of the deal, and we have to get it right,” the State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
The official described talks as “extremely tough” and said some of the most difficult issues are among those being addressed. Those issues include the pace of sanctions relief for Iran and “details about access and transparency,” the official said.
Iran reached a framework nuclear deal with the U.S., Russia China, France, Britain and Germany on April 2.
Negotiators are now seeking a final agreement that would restrict Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iranian officials favor an immediate lifting of sanctions, if an agreement is reached, while P5+1 negotiators favor a gradual relief process.
The two sides also have disagreed about access to Iran's suspected nuclear sites. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said Iran will not allow international inspectors to have access to military sites, scientists or documents.
However, in a Wednesday briefing, Secretary of State Kerry said, “What matters to us is what is agreed upon within the four corners of the document. ... That is what is yet to be determined."
The U.S. and its Western allies have long suspected that Iran is working to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes including generating energy.
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