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Hope of a swift deal fading as Iran nuclear negotiations drag on

Top diplomats from the P5+1 group have continued negotiations with Iran for a third day aimed at reaching deal over Tehran’s nuclear program. Hopes that such a deal could be imminent have faded over the past 24 hours.

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Optimism fades for swift nuclear deal

The foreign ministers of all but one of the P5+1 group of nations, which include the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany were involved in Saturday's negotiations with their Iranian counterpart in Geneva. The fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry had been joined at the talks by the foreign ministers of Germany, Britain and France on Friday, had been interpreted by some as a sign that the two sides were close to reaching at least a preliminary agreement with Tehran.

On Saturday, though, even the arrival of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and China's deputy foreign minister, Li Baodong, weren't enough to maintain a similar level of optimism.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius played down the possibility that a deal could be reached this weekend.

"As I speak to you, I cannot say with any certainty that we can conclude," Fabius said in an interview with France Inter radio on Saturday, adding that Paris was determined not to settle for what he described as a "sucker's deal".

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, didn't appear to be quite as pessimistic.

"There is still hard work to be done," Westerwelle said.

Possible further talks

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also appeared to concede that it was unlikely that an agreement would be reached this weekend. At the same time though, he expressed confidence that this would not spell an end to negotiations, saying that in that case, "the process will continue in one week or 10 days."

Iranian media, though, quoted the deputy minister, Abbas Araqchi, as saying "the issues are serious and there is still a gap in stances." In comments made to the Mehr news agency, Araqchi also suggested that the problem may be that a rift had cropped up among the members of the P5+1 group, saying that the six powers "need constant coordination and consultation in order to determine (their) stances."

Both the Reuters and AFP news agencies cited an unnamed Western diplomatic source, who pointed the finger at the French foreign ministers.

"The Americans, the EU and the Iranians have been working intensively together for months on this proposal, and this is nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations," the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

Israel vehemently opposed

Meanwhile, Israel, which is not a party to the negotiations, again warned against doing a deal.

In comments cited by AFP, Israeli Defence Minister Mosche Yaalon warned that such an agreement would amount to a "historical mistake that will allow the bellicose regime in Tehran to pursue its dangerous nuclear program and its ambition to spread terror and to undermine regimes in the Middle East and the entire world."

The proposed agreement being worked on in Geneva is aimed at allaying Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions in return for a relaxation of some crippling economic sanctions on Tehran.

While Western nations fear that Iran may be using its nuclear program to try to develop nuclear weapons, Tehran insists it is for peaceful purposes only.

pfd/mr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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