Kerry cites big gaps in nuclear talks with Iran

Intense negotiations with Iran have yielded "tangible progress," Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday, but significant gaps remain ahead of a July 20 target date for a deal meant to put firm curbs on Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for an end to sanctions.

File photo: Secretary of State John Kerry.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
File photo: Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry dismissed the idea that Iran could maintain its current number of nuclear enrichment centrifuges as part of a long-term deal with six world powers.

"We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 (centrifuges) that are currently part of their program is too many,'' Kerry told reporters after three days of talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Zarif had suggested in a New York Times interview that Tehran could keep its enrichment program at current levels for a few years before expanding it.

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Kerry, who joined three other Western foreign ministers over the weekend to add diplomatic muscle to the talks, said the negotiations would continue until at least Sunday. In the meantime, he said he would consult with President Barack Obama and Congress on where the talks were "as well as a path forward" if no pact is agreed on by July 20.

"There has been tangible progress on key issues," he told reporters. "However there are very real gaps on other key issues."

Kerry spoke after multiple conversations with Zarif and separate meetings with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, who also converged on the Vienna talks in an attempt to move them forward.

An extension of up to six months is possible for the negotiations, by mutual agreement. But judging by Kerry's comments, any decision to go past Sunday will be taken in the closing hours leading up to that date.

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The main dispute is over Iran's nuclear enrichment program. Tehran says it needs to expand enrichment to make reactor fuel but the U.S. fears Tehran could steer the activity toward manufacturing the core of nuclear missiles. The U.S. wants deep enrichment cuts; Iran wants to greatly expand enrichment.

Also Tuesday, Kerry condemned what he called the ``brazen'' firing of rockets by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip.

Hamas fired rockets from Gaza on Tuesday, drawing a threat by Israel to abandon an Egyptian-proposed truce it had unilaterally accepted.

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``I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets, in multiple numbers, in the face of a goodwill effort (to secure a ceasefire),'' Kerry told a news conference in Vienna.

—By The Associated Press, with Reuters