The top U.S. and Iranian diplomats are meeting in Switzerland in an attempt to hammer out a historic nuclear deal that could give international inspectors access to Iran's military sites and scientists.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif Saturday in a bid to overcome the remaining obstacles to a final nuclear agreement, a month ahead of a June 30 deadline for a deal between Tehran and world powers.
The meeting in Geneva is the first substantive talks since Iran and the six world powers - Britain, France, the United States, Russia, China and Germany - struck an interim deal April 2. Negotiators have been working on the details of a final agreement to scale back Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Among the issues still to be resolved is the push by the world powers for international access to Iran's military sites and its team of scientists to determine if Iran is attempting to build a bomb. For its part, Tehran wants sanctions to be rescinded immediately after a deal is reached.
But Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said international inspectors will not be given access to his country's military sites and scientists under any nuclear deal with world powers.
Senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi also told state television Saturday that interviews "with scientists is completely out of the question and so is inspection of military sites."
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is peaceful with applications for medical research and power generation, but not for developing nuclear weapons.
A senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters there had been substantial progress in talks in Vienna in recent weeks on drafting a political agreement and three technical annexes on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
The United States has said it will not extend the talks beyond the June 30 deadline. "We really do believe we can get it done by (June) 30th and we're not contemplating an extension. We just aren't," the official told reporters traveling with Kerry to Geneva.
But France, which has demanded more stringent restrictions on the Iranians, has indicated talks are likely to slip into July. Iran's Araqchi also warned that the deadline might need to be extended.
'We will try' to meet deadline
Zarif, when asked at the start of the talks on Saturday whether the deadline would be met, replied: "We will try."
Tehran-based analyst Saeed Laylaz said he expected a deal to be finaliZed despite resistance from opponents in Iran and the United States.
"Neither America nor Iran have a choice but to reach a deal," he told Reuters. "Failure to reach a deal will fuel tension in the region."
Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said an agreement was likely some time in July.
"The most difficult compromises have already been made," he said. "But the Iranians could overplay their hand on the incorrect assumption that Obama needs a deal more than they do."
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.
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